N.Y. Times Sports Commentary Details Deaths, Injuries

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In an invited commentary on the sports pages of today’s New York Times (May 22), two West Virginia University neurosurgeons offered a warning to women boxers and the sports promoters who set up their bouts.

 “As more women enter boxing, we can expect them to experience the risk of sustaining serious neurological injuries as are seen in male participants,” wrote Julian Bailes, M.D., chair of the Department of Neurosurgery in the WVU School of Medicine and Vincent J. Miele, M.D., a resident in the department. They pointed out the April death of 34-year-old Becky Zerlentes in a Colorado Golden Gloves event as the latest in a string of fatalities and serious injuries that has followed the rise in popularity  of female boxing.

Both physicians have studied death and injury in women’s boxing, and their research led the Times to ask them for a commentary on the health issues raised by the sport’s new popularity.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Neurology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have called for the abolishment of boxing. Despite this, the sport has grown into a billion dollar industry. “Its elimination is unlikely in the foreseeable future,” the WVU physicians wrote.

Demand for women boxers exceeds supply, and the scarcity means that many underprepared female fighters move quickly through the amateur and professional ranks – often without developing the defensive skills needed to avoid serious injury when facing a more experienced opponent.

Even though most female fighters don’t have the strength to deliver a knockout punch, the cumulative effect of dozens or hundreds of smaller blows to the head can be equally deadly.

The doctors suggest that women who want to move into professional boxing “should seriously consider the requisite training, dedication, years in the sport, and skills which are necessary for not only success but also for safe participation.” Those responsible for their safety in the ring need to know the signs of neurological damage, and remove fighters from competition when any symptoms arise.

The commentary is available on the New York Times website at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/22/sports/othersports/22boxing.html .

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
bc: 5-22-05

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