Muhammad Ali and Parkinson’s disease: Should boxing be banned?

Mr Mrinal Roy’s “The Legend will remain” (Mauritius Times No 3366) is very informative about the late Muhammad Ali, including his struggles against various injustices and that despite his Parkinson’s disease.

As a medical practitioner I ask myself how he came to suffer that disease at such an early age (of 42).

Although he never suffered a knock-out (KO) except when in his fight against Henry Cooper he was, as they said “saved by the gong”, he must have received many blows to his head. Such blows even when not causing impairment of consciousness, jolt the brain and can fear or rupture some tiny blood vessels leading to damage or death of certain brain cells. Such blows if repeated before the previous injury has not had time to heal up (estimated at two to three months) can lead to:

(a) Parkinson’s disease, and

(b) “Punch-drunk” state which in medical jargon goes under the name of “Dementia pugilistica”.

That reminds me of Matthew Arnorld’s “A Wish” which goes as follows:

“Nor bring, to see me cease to live,

Some doctor full of phrase and fame,

To shake his sapient head, and give

The ill he cannot cure a name.”

The patients with that dementia suffer, among other things, of delay in perceiving things (cognitive impairment), chronic anxiety, lethargy, delirium, and a change of personality and slowly and surely drift to a pitiable demise.

When the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease is made before the age of 40 years, there is another disease to consider, namely Wilson’s Disease which is a hereditary defect whereby copper accumulates in and damages some parts of the brain and the liver and is diagnosable by low blood and high urinary copper. I have no doubt that Mr Ali’s doctors have excluded that diagnosis.

In some sports such as rugby or cycling or cricket, etc., one can receive blows to the head but they would be by accident.

What upsets and worries me deeply is that boxing is the ONLY sport where one sets out to deliberately and intentionally disable the opponent. In preparation for the match, one gets the best food, trains to strengthen one’s muscles and increase one’s endurance, sharpens one’s vigilance and agility, studies the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in order to exploit them, and during the fight one often feigns a blow to upset him and that is a form of deceit.

Direct blows to an eye can cause retinal detachment, which may be overlooked for quite some valuable time.

Those who died directly after a KO receive a mention or an article in the news media which raises emotion and indignation for a time and are soon forgotten; each such deaths is one too many!

I believe that Sweden (which had produced some well-known and now largely forgotten boxers especially a certain Johansson) has banned professional boxing for some four decades, if not more and put severe restrictions on amateur boxing.

Is it not time for us to follow Sweden’s example?

* Published in print edition on 17 June 2016

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