Women’s boxing made its Olympic debut last year, but for some, the sport is little more than a session of mutual brain injury. Reuters reports.
Advances in modern neuroscience mean scientists know more than ever about chronic brain damage and the long-term trauma that can result from frequent knocks to the head. Now's a time of intense scrutiny of brain damage in sports:
- A study last year found that even minor repeated head blows during hockey or football may damage learning ability after one season.
- A study of female soccer players last month found evidence of mental impairment caused by repeatedly bouncing a football off the head.
- In January, President Barack Obama suggested that changes be made to NFL rules to reduce violent impact levels.
- Last week, the NFL and General Electric announced a $50-million effort with leading neurologists to improve concussion detection and treatment.
When it comes to arguing for a ban on sports that cause brain injury, boxing's in a class of its own. Head injury is a by-product of scoring in other sports. “Boxing is the only sport in which the objective is to render blows to the head… so as the cause the opponent to be incapacitated,” according World Boxing Association’s Calvin Inalsingh.
Research as far back as 1928 showed that prize fighters suffer from "punch drunk” condition -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy or boxer's dementia -- causing depression, aggression, and memory loss.
"You get tiny lesions along the blood vessels where they have torn the nerve cells around them. This damages those nerve cells, and those cells start to develop the tangles that you see in Alzheimer's disease," explains neuroscientist John Hardy from University College London.
As medical knowledge expands, he adds, boxing will be banned -- but not before many more years of argument between brain scientists and sports authorities.