This is your brain on boxing

On the day when breathless PR is hyping the Biggest Boxing Match in History (Pacquiao v Mayweather), it’s a good moment to reflect on an aspect of brain health that is not generally a key focus of BAMblog, but it certainly has an impact on people who suffer from it. Brain trauma is a huge problem around the world, with the statistics from traffic accidents and falls dominating the numbers among the many millions who are affected (and precisely how many millions is impossible to calibrate, given the differing definitions of trauma and the long-term attenuations of effect).

But among all human activities that can lead to brain injury, whether directly or indirectly, deliberately or not, there is one that stands clear in terms of leveraging catastrophe for entertainment – and that is boxing. Other sports can involve head injury, or employ the threat of it as part of the practice of intimidation designed to lead to victory. But boxing, at the head of a grouping of sports based on fighting, is predicated on brain assault as being the very point of the activity. It is simply unrealistic that an opponent might suppose he can scramble an opponent’s wits enough to win the contest without every risking anyone’s long-term brain injury. And no serious attempt at reforming the sport by forbidding brain assault has ever got beyond the recognition of the visceral thrill felt by the sport’s fans upon seeing a man’s lights punched out. And when that happens, this is what is going on.

Pillows of distracting narrative will be propped up around the brutal central truth as millions breathe in the heady fumes of vicarious danger. They will say today that they don’t want to see either fighter hurt. But they will pay to watch it anyway.

Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!

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