I get sad sometimes when I see retired boxers and football players trying to give interviews or even make a statement that requires their brains to push out a succession of sentences. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, all but mouthing the words to coach them along and help them get it out. It reminds me of kids who didn’t read very well back in school. I just knew the teacher was going to call on them and I was on pins and needles the whole time their passage was being stumbled through.
Their problem was the result of a few things — perhaps a learning disability, not enough practice sounding out words, nervousness — but an athlete who’s taken one too many hits to the head has nothing but his sport to blame most of the time. A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking parents to think about their kids’ health and not put them in a ring where they repeatedly get knocked in the head. Duh.
I love boxing. I’ve watched it since I was a little girl, first with my granddaddy as a nice reprieve from his other sport of choice, which was baseball and a total snoozefest to me. The innings are too long or there’s too much lagging in between action or something. Whatever it was, it bored me to my socks. But boxing made me cagey because I anticipated at any moment, one of the boxers would pounce and put the other down for the count.
I’m the same kid who liked watching fights in school, by the way. Never wanted to get in one, but was always scrambling to see one. No wonder I gravitated to boxing. Shameful.
Now The Man and I watch it together and afterwards usually end up sparring in the living room to back up all the trash talking we do during the course of the match. Same thing when we watch mixed martial arts or WWE. Clearly, there’s a special place in my heart for rough and tumble sports.
But I didn’t need this study to come out to know that my daughter or son won’t be going anywhere near anybody’s boxing ring (and yes, I fully expect to have a son one day and will keep trying until I have one, so if you’re reading, you’ve been forewarned, honey). I’ve seen the damage that all those uppercuts and jabs can do, outside of the split-open foreheads and pummeled eyes.
To be fair, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman are still sharp. There are plenty others who didn’t fare as well. Some have even died. Concussions are the most common injury, the effects from which can be long-lasting. It’s just not that serious for me to put my baby’s health at risk.
Still, as I type, I’m wondering why football wouldn’t be as dangerous? Rather than a punch to the face with the force of body weight behind it, it’s a sack from — if you’re lucky — one dude the size of a Lincoln Navigator. Either way, I would think the brain is going to get rattled around. But hey, what do I know? I’m a writer who can neither throw nor take a punch who also happens to not have a degree in medicine, so my questioning is null and void.
One good thing about boxing, though: you learn how to defend yourself. And in the neighborhoods where boxing provides both an athletic activity and fists-as-weapon instruction, that’s not a bad thing. Even with that and a chance at an Olympic gold medal or a fancy title match, though, I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting my kid be the next Laila Ali or Manny Pacquiao. We’ll all just watch from the sidelines, thanks.
Are there sports that are off-limits for your kids to play?
Image via Brian J. McDermott/Flickr