By Thomas Hauser
At long last, the Nevada State Athletic Commission's Advisory Committee on Boxer Health and Safety has issued its report. Many of the recommendations simply call for further study of problems or suggest that the NSAC ask the state legislature for additional funds to address an issue. Among the items that fit into these categories are:
(1) Further study of whether fighters should be required to have a CAT scan immediately following each fight (which would be dependent upon additional funding from the state legislature that the NSAC now says it will seek).
(2) Further study of the "consistency" of boxing gloves and whether one consistency is safer than another.
(3) Further study of the possibility of developing educational material for trainers that would highlight health and safety issues.
(4) Further study of the extent to which gyms should be regulated.
(5) Further study of whether the commission should seek funding from the state legislature for unspecified medical research projects.
(6) A suggestion that the commission request funding from the state legislature for additional drug and steroid testing.
(7) Further study of the creation of a fund to pay for medical expenses for aging and retired fighters.
(8) Further study of the creation of a fund to pay pensions to former fighters.
Since the state legislature isn't scheduled to meet until February 2007, this puts action in the above areas on hold. Moreover, the benefit plans are pie in the sky. How will they be funded in a meaningful way? How many fights does a fighter need to qualify? What happens when a fighter who shouldn't be fighting anymore needs one more fight to qualify for his medical benefits or pension?
The committee report correctly decries what it calls "a culture of abnormal weight-loss measures being employed by fighters on a regular basis that are unsafe and potentially deadly." Foremost among the measures referenced in the report is dehydration.
However, to remedy the problem, the committee recommends that a fighter be automatically fined ten percent of his purse if he fails to make weight on his first attempted weigh-in. This "reform" would do nothing to safeguard fighters. It simply punishes a fighter who endangers a fight.
The report also recommends that, to combat dehydration, fighters be allowed to quaff "electrolyte drinks" between rounds. This should lead to some interesting foreign substances on gloves.
Other weight issues are deferred pending further study. There is no serious discussion of requiring same-day weigh-ins, which would require fighters to fight in a more appropriate weight division.
Next, the committee report observes, "It is considered common knowledge that not reporting injuries to the appropriate officials is common practice among fighters, their trainers, managers, and gym owners. Of particular concern are the seriousness of the injuries not reported and specifically [a fighter] being 'buzzed' or concussed before a fight."
Here, the committee recommends that state law be revised to allow (but not require) the NSAC to revoke the license of a licensee who "has failed or refused to inform the commission about a serious injury suffered by an unarmed combatant during training about which the licensee has personal knowledge."
That wording has loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. What constitutes a "serious" injury? What is "personal knowledge?" And why is the revocation discretionary?
The committee considered the possibility that the use of heavier gloves in the lighter weight divisions would reduce injuries but acknowledged that it "did not have any scientific evidence to prove this to be the case." Regardless, the NSAC has now mandated that fighters in the 135, 140, and 147-pound divisions will be required to wear ten-ounce gloves instead of the traditional eight. This runs counter to the conventional belief that heavier gloves protect a fighter's fists rather than the opponent's brain. Also, if lightweights are required to wear ten-ounce gloves, doesn't logic dictate that heavyweight gloves should be twelve ounces instead of ten?
More to the point; the report of the Advisory Committee on Boxer Health and Safety is notable for its omissions.
There is no overt mention of phony medicals, which are a burgeoning problem in boxing and are thought to have contributed to at least one recent ring death in Nevada. A thorough report would have called for immediate measures to protect the integrity of medical data submitted to the commission. This would include phony medical tests and all false statements made to NSAC personnel regarding medical matters. Unfortunately, the only reference to the problem in the committee report is an oblique mention in a recommendation that the NSAC hire a part-time doctor whose job would include, among other things, the responsibility to verify the authenticity of medical tests if requested to do so by the commission. And even this measure would require additional funding from the state legislature.
Why can't the Nevada State Athletic Commission deal with the issue of phony medicals and false statements now?
The committee further recommends that a least three physicians be ringside for each card and that all fighters be examined by a physician immediately following a fight. But its report says nothing about improved training for ring doctors. Nevada has some excellent ring physicians, but others are inadequately trained and have questionable judgment. It's not enough to simply be a doctor and show up on the night of a fight.
The NSAC sometimes licenses fighters who are in poor physical condition. It also allows mismatches to take place. These fights might not lead directly to death, but they're responsible for much of the longterm brain damage sustained by fighters. The committee report is silent on this matter.
Finally, the committee recommends that the NSAC's Medical Advisory Board be abolished and replaced by a board of doctors who would be appointed by, and under the direction of, the commission. Medical Advisory Board members are currently appointed by the Governor, not the NSAC. This proposal would eliminate the last vestiges of independent medical review in Nevada.
Earlier this year, former light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (president of JAB, the nation's largest boxers union) criticized the make-up of the Advisory Committee on Boxer Health and Safety.
"It's wrong not to have someone who has a background in boxing on the committee," Mustafa Muhammad said. "No offense to anyone on the committee, but they're not boxers. A lot of them, I doubt they know a left hook from a fish hook. We can avoid deaths by doing simple things. You don't have to be a rocket scientist."
No; but you do have to put high medical standards for boxing ahead of spin and politics.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org