Viewpoint: Why one physician supports a violent sport

January 22, 2010

The subculture of boxing that includes trainers, promoters, and even the doctors is difficult to explain unless you're submerged in it.

The excitement, however, is different when I am there as a doctor and not a fan. I worry about the fighters getting hurt. It is my responsibility to jump in and stop the fight when I think that a boxer can no longer defend himself.

One time I stopped a fight in Poughkeepsie. A boxer got punched through the ropes and onto the table where I sat ringside. He got back into the ring before the ref counted to 10, but I saw his left knee buckle, and he was unsteady on his feet. The ref was going to allow the fight to continue. I got up on the apron and waved my stethoscope to stop the fight. The crowd started yelling at me. After about 30 seconds, the fighter regained his orientation and started cursing at me. His cornermen told me that I didn't know what I was doing. It would have been easier to let the fight continue and allow the ref to make the call, but I did what I knew was right. I am an orthopedic surgeon; my ego can handle the abuse.

The American Medical Association (AMA) wants to ban boxing. This position is fascinating to me because the organization has not called for banning horseback riding, football, cheerleading, scuba diving, or mountaineering, all of which have statistically higher morbidity and mortality rates than boxing.

Since when is the AMA in charge of determining which sports are legal? Is this task on the organization's agenda along with banning smoking and wearing helmets when biking? How many deaths do we see from motorcycle accidents? Why doesn't the AMA come out against this dangerous activity?

Boxing is one of the few sports in which fighters are matched based on weight and experience. If an opponent is down, a boxer must step away and give him a chance to recover. It is a gentleman's sport that has been around since ancient times. It is one of the only sports that is truly one man versus another. Conditioning, strength, speed, and training, as well as mental toughness, make good boxers successful.

I have been ringside at a fight that killed a boxer. It was on the USS Intrepid in New York City in 2001. The boxer did not get knocked down until the 10th round. He took many head shots during the fight but won the eighth and ninth rounds. He had been checked between rounds by his corner doctor and was fine to continue.

After the knockout, I was the first doctor in the ring. I made sure that the boxer was breathing. I stabilized his head and neck; there have been knockouts where I have had to grab the referee's hand to keep him from moving the fighter's head. I asked the boxer where he was, and he responded, "Chicago." The other doctors immediately called in the EMTs, and we transported the boxer to Bellevue Hospital. Unfortunately, a week later, he died from a subdural hematoma. It was a tragic event, but the doctors took control of the situation and provided the best possible treatment for this fatal injury.

Boxing is inherently dangerous, but I am glad to be there and to provide some protection for these great athletes. The boxers often need protection from themselves and would continue fighting even if they were incapable of keeping their hands up. It is always an interesting and exciting night out.

I know that I provide safety and control that would not be there if no doctors were ringside. My hope for the future is that a national boxing council is created so that additional states will have mandatory medical testing to protect these great athletes, as New York has.

Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA, is a member of the New York State Athletic Commission and has worked ringside for 13 years in New York and Connecticut. He serves on the board of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians. He can be contacted at rixtermd@aol.com or on his Web site, http://theboxingdoc.com/. Send your feedback to meletters@advanstar.com
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