“Fight” by Dan Barry, and reflections on brain injury

This long article by New York Times columnist Dan Barry (March 28, 2016) caught my attention because it is about a young boxer who died in his first professional fight at age 19.

I’m hypersensitive on the subject of brain injury, having watched a loved one make the difficult journey from coma and paralysis back to life. That dreadful injury was caused by an auto accident. I learned that rehabilitation of the brain is difficult, lengthy, expensive and uncertain as to outcome. It’s not like healing a fracture.

I find it impossible to accept a “sport” and “business” in our midst that leads to totally avoidable brain injuries and death.

Anthony Taylor and Ali Aljahmi were 24 and19 years old, respectively, when they fought in a church hall in Youngstown, Ohio. They competed in the super flyweight category, for boxers weighing 112 to 115 pounds. Taylor was 5 feet tall, Aljahmi a little taller. The fight was limited to four rounds. It seemed so uneven in the first round that fans called for the fight to be stopped. Taylor was staggering. But in the fourth round, it was Aljahmi who fell motionless.

When a 19 year old dies meaninglessly, someone is to blame. (I’m speaking as a parent here.)

I blame the church (Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church) that hosted the match. An event called “Season’s Beatings”? What were they thinking? Was it the best way to make money off their real estate? It’s legal, so it’s OK?

I blame the doctor, who was identified as a dermatologist. Without medical supervision, there’s no fight. Any doctor who stops to think knows that he/she cannot identify a brain bleed early enough to do anything about it. Why would a dermatologist take responsibility for the safety of a boxing match?

I blame the business of professional boxing, and the state agencies that regulate it.

Can anything be said in defense of boxing? I find a few hints in the article. Boxers learn focus and control.”…you can’t fight when you’re angry. Boxing is a thinking game,” according to Taylor. Additionally, a champion is a champion regardless of weight class. The world super flyweight champion may not get all the attention accorded to a heavyweight champion, but his status cannot be denied. Both these arguments can be made in favor of other, far less dangerous sports.

The argument is often made that boxing gets young strivers up and out of poverty. I consider this specious, and shameful to us as a society.

Boxing is legal because we are used to it. But it developed at a time when medical understanding of the human brain was limited, and being knocked unconscious was regarded as a very minor inconvenience. So much has been learned about neurology, especially in the past decade. Consider the many lawsuits against professional football for post concussion brain damage.

Aljahmi’s family and community took pride in his boxing, but I think they would probably prefer he was still among them.

Dan Barry writes regularly for the New York Times. In his column called “This Land”, he comments widely on American life and culture. He describes boxing as “risk(ing) cognitive ability for public enjoyment”. His next book will be released on May 17. The title is “The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland”.

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One thought on ““Fight” by Dan Barry, and reflections on brain injury

  1. Seems like boxing would be much more defensible if people didn’t find themselves using the up from poverty argument. How much safer is the kind of boxing they practice, as far as I know, in the olympics, with points and headgear instead of knockouts? And are there any countries that have gotten rid of boxing?

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