, Salem, MA


May 2, 2013

Letter: A boxer's fatal blow

To the editor:

Following the Boston Marathon bombing, leading scientists called for an autopsy on the brain of one suspect, the deceased older brother. Dr. Robert Cantu and Dr. Robert Stern, co-founders of the Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encepalopathy at Boston University, say that an autopsy could help determine if Tamerlan Tsarnaev suffered boxing-related brain damage.

We cannot begin to know what evil lurks in the hearts of men and what motivates some to commit atrocities, but we have learned much more about the human brain and the damage caused by repeated head trauma. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a condition found increasingly in athletes engaged in contact sports, especially boxing and football, and in veterans of the battlefield. Tamerlan, who had been boxing since childhood, had become an outstanding Golden Gloves boxer.

The American Academy of Neurology, the international association of more than 21,000 neurology professionals, says that intentional trauma to the brain — the kind inflicted by boxers — results in measurable, persistent damage. And the damage accumulates long after the boxing ceases. “Punch drunk” syndrome manifests itself in diminished motor and cognitive skills, as well as behavior.

AAN considers boxing a serious threat, and it urges steps to reduce the number of direct blows to the head and to increase the monitoring of participants’ neurological health. The Australian Medical Association is even stronger in its opposition. Boxing, it feels, should be banned from the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, as well as prohibited for those under the age of 18. In their combined position statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society vigorously oppose boxing for any child or adolescent.

In 1983, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. George Lundberg, created a controversy when he called for a ban on boxing. For both medical and moral reasons, Lundberg still urges an end to the “barbaric” sport whose goal is to inflict maximum harm on the opponent.

The amalgam of physiological, psychological, social and cultural factors that shape human behavior preclude our fully understanding the marathon bomber’s state of mind. But the evidence on concussions suggests that a look into his brain could provide useful information. Bomber No. 1 may be one more boxing loser.

Sally Ann Connolly


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