Why Amateur Boxing Is Safer Than You Think

The danger that head injuries can pose to athletes has come under much discussion in both professional and amateur sports.  What was once "getting your bell rung" on the football field or basketball court is now seen for what it truly is: a dangerous head injury that can cause lasting neurological effects in athletes long after their playing career ends. 

In 1986, having seen harmful effects to professional boxers from continuous head trauma, USA Boxing commissioned Johns Hopkins University to conduct a study to determine the long-term cognitive effects of injuries on amateur boxers.  The study, which studied amateur boxers over a number of years, found no "clinically significant" signs of permanent cognitive or motor skill loss.  Regardless, amateur boxing places a high priority on the safety of its athletes in a number of ways:

1.  Well-designed protective gear

Many amateur boxers wear protective headgear that helps to absorb opponents' blows and protect against scrapes, cuts and facial bruising. At elite levels athletes are not required to wear headgear, as it can impede vision which actually causes more of a danger of head injuries. Similarly, mouthpieces help to prevent jaw and mouth injuries.  Unlike professional boxing gloves, which are designed to transmit shock, amateur gloves are shock absorbent and are also more padded than their professional counterparts.  Sweat-absorbent jerseys also help prevent sweat from being transferred to athletes' eyes.

2.  Ten different people with the power to stop a bout

Along with the early recognition of the potential danger that head injuries present to amateur boxers, the sport has done a great job of educating referees, physicians and trainers on how to spot the signs of a concussion.  Before and after a bout each athlete must be examined and cleared by a trained physician.  During a bout, any one of ten people, including referees, judges, either boxer’s corner, the ring doctor, the event host, or the two boxers themselves, can stop the match at any point due to injury. 

3.  The Standing 8 Count

Unlike many pro boxing matches currently aired on TV, amateur boxing referees can use Standing 8 counts at any point in a match, during which a boxer must stay standing for 8 seconds in order to continue. Boxers can receive a standing eight count up to 3 times in any given round to assess their ability to defend his/herself.

4.  Better records to prevent second concussions

While first-time concussions often do occur, it's often a second concussion occurring before the first can properly heal that causes lasting cognitive effects. In order to prevent athletes who have sustained a head injury from competing before they've recovered, every amateur boxer has a passbook that must be presented at a bout in order to participate.  If they haven't been cleared medically, an athlete cannot compete.  If a boxer suffers a knockout, they’re kept from competing for anywhere from 30-180 days, depending on the severity of the injury and whether they’ve lost consciousness.

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Note:  As AIBA, the international governing body of amateur boxing, makes revisions to the current rules, some of this information is likely to change.  Be on the lookout for more articles outlining what’s changing in amateur boxing!