Brutal Prizefighter Injuries Raise Questions About Coverage

“In the span of two weeks last fall, two prizefighters went to the hospital after their bouts,” Alan Neuhauser wrote Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review. 

Mike Perez lands a hard left-cross on the head of Magomed Abdusalamov during their heavyweight bout Nov. 2, 2013. Abdusalamov underwent brain surgery after the fight to remove a blood clot from his brain and emerged last month from a medically induced coma.
Mike Perez lands a hard left-cross on the head of Magomed Abdusalamov during their heavyweight bout Nov. 2, 2013. Abdusalamov underwent brain surgery after the fight to remove a blood clot from his brain and emerged last month from a medically induced coma. Joe Camporeale/USA Today

Some Still Say Fighters Fare Better in Ring Than in Streets

In the span of two weeks last fall, two prizefighters went to the hospital after their bouts. Francisco Leal, 26, died of a brain injury after a knockout loss to Raul Hirales on October 19,” Alan Neuhauser wrote Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review.

Magomed Abdusalamov, 32, remains in a medically induced coma as I write, with a blood clot near his brain, after a November 2 fight with Mike Perez. The incidents provoked a flurry of self-flagellating stories in the boxing press, from Mike Gallego’sBoxing is Still a Goddamned Tragedy‘ on the Gawker site Uppercutting, to Greg Bishop’s A1 story in The New York Times that explored ‘why we cover this brutal sport.‘ [Abdusalamov was reported to have emerged from the coma on Dec. 9, but Thomas Hauser wrote on Christmas for boxingscene.com, “Some people would choose to not continue living under the current circumstances of Magomed’s life.”]

Neuhauser continued, “A better question might be: Why don’t we cover this brutal sport more? For amid the thousands of words about Leal and Abdusalamov, an issue that has become one of the defining sports stories of our time was conspicuously absent: the connection of repeated concussive and subconcussive hits to long-term brain damage that surfaces years later. ‘Writers tend to write much more often when a guy’s battling for his life with a subdural hematoma than when a guy is potentially sustaining consequences from subconcussive hits,’ says Lou DiBella, one of boxing’s biggest promoters. ‘I don’t think the writers give a rat’s ass about concussions.’

Bart Barry, a reporter for the boxing-news website 15 Rounds, described it more charitably: ‘I think we all kind of hide from it — what, we’re learning more and more, is really bad for you.’

“But this may be starting to change. And the implications, for boxers, boxing fans, and boxing writers, are profound. ‘We’ve all helped make a lot of myths,’ says The New York Times’ Bishop, who also covers college football. ‘Somebody needs to be looking out for these guys.’ He acknowledged having had ‘trouble sleeping for a few nights’ after covering a fight. ‘I don’t get that watching football,’ he says.

“That boxing is dangerous is hardly news. [Just] look at Muhammad Ali, Meldrick Taylor, or countless other veterans of the sweet science, their hands shaking, their speech slurred, their gait unsteady. But the growing unease among some boxing writers is something new. . . .”

Some see a difference in perspective between white boxing writers and those of color. Tim Smith, a black journalist laid off from the Daily News in New York in May, now freelancing and known primarily as an award-winning boxing writer, told Journal-isms Friday, “I’ve always had misgivings about covering the sport,” but that journalists have an obligation to do so.

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