Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Proposal from the WBC

The WBC has proposed to ban the practice of fathers training their sons, based on the idea that a father cannot have the sufficient emotional distance from his charge to make proper decisions about whether or not to continue fighting:
Dr. Paul Wallace, chairman of the WBC's medical advisory board, said that a study in California backed up the WBC's stance.

"The most common factor out of all the fatalities that had happened, was having fathers in the corner," he said of the study. "Now, that's not something that's a medical issue, but it's something that's clearly an association."

Art Pelullo, president of Banner Promotions, said the emotional link between father and son should preclude them working so closely together during a fight.

"A father is not detached enough to make the right decision, because he's looking at what he loves and maybe not seeing what's really going on," Pelullo said.
I'd have to see the study to be convinced, because the logic presented above is dubious. You could just as easily argue that a father would be more likely to pull the plug on a tough fight involving his son, because he loves him in a way that a subordinate business associate would not. Furthermore, thinking about all the recent fights in which fighter's have been very gravely hurt or killed, the majority of the victims weren't trained by their fathers: Leavander Johnson did, but Oscar Diaz, Victor Burgos, and Beethavean Scottland did not have their dads in their corner. That's a small sample, of course, so it'd be helpful to see a little more of the data upon which the WBC is basing their claim.

I guess it's good to see one of the sanctioning bodies examining creative ways to reduce boxing injuries, but I think a) plainly ineffectual plans could do as much harm as they do good to the support, insofar as they discredit efforts to make boxing safer, and b) the problem likely goes beyond mere tinkering, but rather requires a sweeping cultural change in the sport. Malcolm Gladwell's recent article on football and brain trauma suggests that well in excess of 20 percent of boxers suffer from dementia late in life. That figure needs to be hashed out a little bit; what is the percentage, and how does it relate to how many fights they had, how many rounds they fought, how many years they fought, how many knockouts they suffered, how long they rested after knockouts, et cetera, et cetera. It may be that the boxers we think of as following a very safe (relatively speaking) career path --for instance someone like Joe Calzaghe, who never suffered anything close to a beatdown and retired at 36 with his physical ability very much intact-- is still very much at risk for mental deterioration down the line. If that's the case, boxing's stewards need to think really hard about drastic modifications to their sport, if not for moral reasons, than for self-interest: I don't think Americans will support an activity in which the participants have a 75 percent chance of losing brain function at 55.

In the meantime, boxing also needs to look a lot harder at training; the fact that Jorge Linares was fighting a few weeks after being reportedly knocked unconscious in sparring (and was subsequently knocked out in the first round by an unheralded fighter on what seemed like a relatively innocuous hook to the side of the head) is a perfect illustration of the holes in the regulation of boxers' health.

No comments: