In a surprising move, an amateur boxing league has banned its boxers from wearing headgear in an attempt to reduce the number of head injuries suffered by athletes. While the new rule is disturbing to some, the league believes that boxers won't hit each other with so much force if their opponents' heads are unprotected.
The new rules, established by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), state that beginning on June 1st, all amateur elite male boxers competing internationally will be banned from wearing headgear, just like the professionals in the sport. Besides hoping boxers will use less force, the AIBA also believes that removing headgear will improve peripheral vision, making it easier for boxers to anticipate and dodge blows to side of the head.
The AIBA announcement comes after research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found there was 'no good evidence that mouth guards and helmets ward off concussion'.
The AIBA said: 'All available data indicated that the removal of head guards in Elite Men would result in a decreased number of concussions.'
Cuts, bruises and broken bones will all still be problematic, but protecting boxers from the cognitive damage associated with repetitive head injuries is the key, according to the AIBA. While a broken bone can heal, 'If you can't recognize your grandchildren, it's a disaster,' Charles Butler, chairman of the AIBA medical commission, told the Wall Street Journal. It was Butler's research involving 15,000 boxers, half of whom wore headgear and half who didn't, that helped formed the basis for these recommendations.
Butler discovered that in 7,352 rounds of fights with boxers wearing headgear, 0.38 per cent of fighters suffered concussions. Of the 7,545 who fought without head protection, only 0.17 per cent got concussions.
Ironically, since the 1980s, amateur boxers have been forced to wear headgear to protect them from concussions. But according to Butler, gloves have improved since that time, which helps reduce the impact of blows to the head and lessens the need for head gear.
Not everyone agrees with Butler; in fact, many have criticized the new rules citing evidence that knockouts often occur after boxers are hit on the chin. While there is disagreement over the best way to protect boxers from concussions, everyone is in agreement that repeated, sub-concussive hits to the head are dangerous and are linked to disease later in life. The term for this condition is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), where sufferers experience memory loss, dementia and depression as well as other symptoms.
The most widespread example of this problem can be viewed among professional football players. Many retired NFL players have joined a class action law suit against the league claiming that they have suffered personality and neurological disorders because they were not properly warned about the dangers of suffering repeated concussions. The makers of NFL athletic wear have also been named in the suit, as players claim their helmets did not provide them adequate protection from concussions.