Science, Technology, and Boxing

By Robert Ecksel on February 13, 2017
Science, Technology, and Boxing
Traditionalists balk at messing with the symmetry of our sport and for good reason.

There have been advancements in safety above and beyond safety for safety’s sake over the years, but boxing by its nature takes no prisoners…

From the cavemen to the Colosseum, from the Marquess of Queensberry to the Vegas Strip, boxing has evolved in fits and starts from its roots in prehistory. Boxing remains rudimentary, but it is a sport of distinction with a noble lineage. First legitimized at the XXIII Greek Olympiad in 688 B.C., boxing has adapted, and at times flourished, over the millennia and the addition of three-minute rounds, gloves and instant replay has not only enhanced the sport, it has softened it up for more enhancements to come.

Traditionalists balk at messing the perfect symmetry of our sport and for good reason. Some things are better left alone. But the phrase “safety first,” however meaningful or meaningless it might or might not be, has seldom informed the ways and means of the fight game.

There have been advancements in safety above and beyond safety for safety’s sake over the years, but boxing by its nature takes no prisoners. Improvements are welcome. But improvements, however well-intentioned and presumably well-informed, only serve to mitigate the intrinsic harm that boxing does to the participants.

In an effort to stem the rising tide of hematomas, InfraScan, Inc., sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the U.S. Marines Corps, has developed a portable and noninvasive device called an Infra-Scanner to provide a rapid evaluation of head trauma patients with possible intracranial hemorrhage.

The British & Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA) has tested the Infra-Scanner and plans to introduce it during fights in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

Thomas Moore, Sky News’ Health & Science Correspondent, writes that the idea of an Infra-Scanner was prompted by the death of Mike Towell last year during a fight Glasgow, Scotland. (He passed away the following day.) The Infra-Scanner can detect brain bleeds with an accuracy of 90%, often before symptoms like headaches or confusion appear.

“Compulsory brain imaging using Infra-Scanners could be ‘massive,’” said Moore, “for boxers who risk death from professional competition.”

BIBA Vice President Gianluca Di Caro is also a believer in this technology.

“We wholeheartedly believe having them ringside will significantly prevent further tragedies within our sport,” he said.

An estimated 1.4 million people experience TBI each year in the United States, resulting in 1.1 million hospital visits, 235,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths. Males between the ages of 15 to 24, aka the young and the restless, account for two-thirds of childhood and adolescent head trauma patients. Many TBI cases occur from sports, but others are part of extensive trauma to the victim (stemming from automobile accidents, war-zone explosions, etc.). The Infra-Scanner focuses on patients with moderate-to-severe TBI where diagnosis within the first 60 minutes (the so-called “golden hour”) of the traumatic event is critical.

Can an inoffensive hand-held device save a fighter’s life during the critical “golden hour”? Does the Infra-Scanner work as promised? Based on a hypothetical worse case scenario, if everyone had done his or her job during the fight, if the trainers and referees and ringside physicians had brought their A-game to the match in question, a ring death might have been avoided. But before rejecting the scanner outright, as a slap to the face of orthodoxy, as a rabbit punch to tradition, let’s see how it performs in the heat of battle before passing judgment. The Infra-Scanner does nothing for boxing’s aesthetic, where less is more, but if a gadget can save a boxer’s life, it would be callous to ignore it.

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  1. Moon Man 08:18am, 02/14/2017

    I wish they manufactured an Infra Scanner that could detect at 100% accuracy when someone was delivering “alternative facts.” My gawd, that gadget would be priceless.

  2. Allen 05:21am, 02/14/2017

    back to bare knuckles. No brain injuries then only broken hands.

  3. George Otto, JD--AAIB and TJQF 05:18am, 02/14/2017

    Very good article.  Also, considerable research has been done by many experts in the fields related to CET (aka pugilistica dementia, punch drunk syndrome, etc.) regarding factors which may make one individual more susceptible to significant head trauma injuries than another prior to being inflicted with such an injury.  An ounce of prevention often is worth a pound of cure though it may impinge upon one’s personal freedom.  This is true because of the overall costs placed upon the general public as a whole for items such as medical treatment and securing and meeting one’s ordinary living expenses which could otherwise be avoided.

  4. Lucas McCain 06:26pm, 02/13/2017

    I seem to recall a basketball death some years ago.  A ball hit someone’s chest hard and stopped the heart.  Freak accident; pretty weird.

  5. Moon Man 05:02pm, 02/13/2017

    Was searching for baseball related deaths and came across some book titled, “Death At The Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study Of Game Related Fatalities, 1862-2007.” This book chronicles 850 deaths in all baseball games from MLB, to minor league, to Little League and even pickup games. The deaths involve not only the players but fans and umpires as well. In the brief description of the book, it says that the average MLB game involves a rough estimate of 35-40 foul balls sent into the stands. That seems awful high to me, but whatever the number, someone getting nailed in the head by a baseball traveling 110 MPH could be in some serious hurt. And don’t forget the fools who tumble from the upper deck levels reaching to catch a foul ball.

  6. No10Count 03:43pm, 02/13/2017

    Lucas nailed the real problem here.

    Also - people only take things at social face value.
    Boxing is dangerous because you hit each other. While golf isn’t because it’s a nice, placid game played by rich people (or want to be those people)
    Physical contact isn’t part of the game but more people (including spectators) die from blunt force trauma than any other ... yes golf! 
    More people die per year playing golf.  Blunt for trauma, drunk driving, and electrocution. In that order.

    So technically - it should be law everyone on a gold course should have to ware a full face helmet. Won’t happen because those that make the laws you abide by own those courses and don’t wont to look full

  7. Kid 03:13pm, 02/13/2017

    There is no such thing as a “small bleed.”  It’s like being 1% pregnant. Brian bleeds are to be taken seriously. Trust me on this one.

  8. Lucas McCain 12:45pm, 02/13/2017

      As long as boxing exists and doesn’t ban head-blows, mitigating technology is more than “merely mitigating.”  Mitigation is a big deal.  But there will be a problem with Star-Trek scanners between rounds when a bout is stopped without any observable staggering or dramatic injury.  “Fight’s over, we detect a small bleed” will drive both the crowd, and the excited fighter himself, into fits if the bout is stopped on those grounds.  It’s hard to see how it will work in the long run.

  9. Kid 10:47am, 02/13/2017

    The only way to prevent long term PD and/or CTE and/or other dreadful outcomes from boxing is to ban the sport. I’m not saying that I am for that but I AM saying that it’s the only way to solve the problem. Scanners, etc are great and help mitigate things, but dementia and CTE is derived from too many head shots.

    There are plenty of studies out there and I dare say, I have read them all. There is no way to prevent tau cells from developing in the brain if their is a disposition for them to develop and if that disposition is triggered by concussive shots to the head. Scanner might trigger the need for an immediate operation, but the fact is, the bleeding has already started.

    If scanners can PREVENT something, use them by all means.

  10. Moon Man 10:17am, 02/13/2017

    People have died playing non-contact sports like “softball.” I’m sure there have been cases involving a baseball player getting struck in the face or beaned in the head that resulted in their death or serious injury. I’ve seen a guy run nose first into a fence after a flyball, resulting in a bloody, broken nose, KO. I’ve also seen a guy ko’ed playing volleyball. Poor feller fell backwards and thumped his noggin’ on the gym floor with a sickening thud. Cringeworthy. If boxing is so brutal that you have to take that many precautions, maybe they should just ban the sport. With the exception of sports like ping pong, just about any sport out there, even non-contact sports, like volleyball & softball pose risks. The real health hazard in boxing IMO, is the weight cutting that these fighters put themselves through.

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