Science, Technology, and Boxing
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.