A FEW weeks ago in Kensing-. ton a young. man, Paul Chance, was knocked unconscious from a blow to the head. As he lay with eyes glazed and blood trickling from his open mouth several thousand people clapped, cheered, whistled and hooted their approval. Unlikely? Well it did happen at the Albert Hall and is repeated anywhere professional boxing takes place.
Since a teenager I've been a boxing fan. My own experience in the ring is limited, but I know enough to say, what a punch on the head feels like: and that's something which I doubt has been the experience of many of the fight fans at the Albert Hall or Wembley.
During a period teaching in London I was involved in the setting up of an amateur boxing club. I always refuted arguments against the sport with the old cliches injuries were the result of "accidents": the injury rate compared favourably with that of other sports: boxing was character forming, etc.
However, I could never overcome the unease I felt over some of the brutality I had seen, Nor was I convinced by the reasoning which attempted to explain away the deaths in the ring from in the early sixties the death of Alejandro Lavorante, Benny 'Kid' Paret, Davy Moore to more recently those of Angelo Jaccoupucci, Cleveland Denny and Johnny Owen.
In the past 35 years, 335 boxers have died as a result of injuries in the ring. A shocking enough statistic but in addition there is little doubt but that many hundreds have suffered varying degrees of brain damage. As an indication of just how many. a survey among British neurosurgeons on the incidence of head injuries in sportsmen, by neuropathologist Professor J. A. N. Corsellis, uncovered evidence of 290 brain damaged boxers.
Perhaps more revealing was the paper published in 1973: "The Aftermath of Boxing by Professor Corsellis et al. This was a report on the pathological examination of the brains of 15 former boxers 12 professional, three amateur. Two had been former world professional champions. The study revealed serious and often quite horrendous deterioration of cerebral tissue, and concluded that this was directly related to the experience of boxing.
Since the punch drunk syndrome was delineated by Dr H. S.
Martland about 1928, volumes of evidence have been presented on the clinical disorders, attributed to boxing. Notably the 1969 report on the "Medical Aspects of Boxing" by the Royal College of Physicians. And the monograph "Brain Damage in Boxers' by A. N. Roberts, one of the Royal College team. In relating the clinical evidence to his study Professor Corsellis stated: "The conclusion therefore seems unavoidable, that the paramount reason for insidious neurological and psychological deterioration of so many of the 15 men was the brain damage incurred while boxing. This appears all the more definite since the concordance of the clinical and neuro-pathological findings is considerably closer than might have been expected in such a complex situation."
This study was carried out on men who had boxed between 1900 and 1940 and many would say that today with better safety regulations and fewer contests, the risk of brain damage is less.
It's something which I doubt. Despite the advantages prefight medical examinations.
including E.E.G. and C.A.T.
brain scans, when two men throw punches at each other's heads there is a real chance they will suffer brain damage. As stated in "The Aftermath of Boxing": "A single punch, or even many punches, to the head need not visibly alter the structure of the brain but there is still the danger that, at an unpredictable moment and for an unknown reason, one or more blows will leave their mark."
In addition to brain damage, the serious eye injury common to boxing the detached retina still occurs with regularity. This sadly has been the fate recently of Chris Finnegan, the Olympic gold medalist and former British and European professional champion. He has lost the sight of his right eye and his left eye is deteriorating badly.
Despite everything. I still think that it may be possible that an acceptable sport could develop from boxing. I take the analogy with fencing. Here a safe, challenging and entertaining sport developed from the brutal business of sword fighting.
With boxing a similar transformation might be possible with the introduction of newly developed safety equipment such as headgear / faceshields and the "pneumatic glove". Headgear has always been controversial and resisted by boxing authorities. Past designs have proved cumbersome. but a study into the use of headgear in boxing conducted in the 1960s in Czechoslovakia by a medical team led by Dr L. Schmid did appear to prove the effectiveness of headgear in reducing the impact of a punch.
Recently there has been a lot of interest in the US in experiments on 'closed cell' foam padding. Impressive shock absorbent qualities are claimed. It certainly seems possible that with modern technology a revolutionary type of lightweight headguard / faceshield could be developed from such material.
The real breakthrough could come with the introduction of pneumatic gloves.
The pneumatic glove is not exactly new. There have been versions of it for the past 20 years. However a lightweight air-filled glove designed in 1964 by the former British lightweight champion, Eric Boon created the most interest.
It was much championed by the then chief medical officer of the British Amateur Boxing Association, the late Dr R. Blonstein, who called for its introduction. However it was never produced commercially and the whole thing fell through.
In Sweden (where professional boxing is banned and headgear compulsory in amateur boxing) the senior doctor associated with amateur boxing, Professor Lyderic Lofgren, has been campaigning recently for the introduction of the pneumatic glove.
If new headgear faCeShieiGS and pneumatic gloves were introduced and proved effective it would mean the end of boxing as we know it. 1 think the new sport would of necessity have to be totally amateur. Whether such revolutionary changes ever take place remain to be seen. There is certainly a lot of public unease towards the game following the death of little Johnny Owen and now a Bill to abolish boxing has been introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Taylor Gryffe.