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Injuries as Usual

Injuries are part of the game...all the games. Check the lists of players who won't be available for next weekend's high school, college, and pro football battles because they've torn ligaments, broken bones, or otherwise banged themselves up. The carnage isn't limited to contact sports. Baseball players get blisters and tear their rotator cuffs, and even cross country runners pull hamstrings.

But no game other than boxing is set up to guarantee that virtually everyone will get hurt badly, and that the dumbest and most desperate and most deluded or least fortunate among the combatants will suffer brain damage from which they cannot recover and which will continue to get worse, even after they have retired.

In a boxing column in the Boston Globe on Monday, Ron Borges wrote of 41-year-old former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield that "the difference in his speech is becoming alarming." Holyfield had indicated that although he was hammered in his last two bouts by boxers who couldn't have beaten him a few years ago, he plans to continue fighting. Holyfield is, as he puts it, "determined to see each setback as an opportunity for a comeback."

That's a laudable perspective almost anywhere but in the ring.

It's easy to see in retrospect that Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Joe Lewis, Ray Robinson and hundreds and hundreds of other fighters should have quit before their brains were so badly damaged that they could not walk, talk, and, in some cases, feed themselves.

The trainers, managers and fight doctors with whom I've spoken over the years have said that fighters aren't inclined to listen when somebody advises them to retire.

That's not surprising. Most athletes believe they can play another season or two when objective observers have no trouble recognizing in them the signs of decline. In lots of sports, "almost as good as I once was" is good enough, and not especially dangerous.

But a basketball player or a runner, hell, a lawyer or a fry cook whose speech became markedly less fluent and more difficult to understand would no doubt see a doctor to make sure the deterioration wasn't the result of a stroke. Only in boxing is what has happened to Evander Holyfield regarded not only as business as usual, but no reason for business to be curtailed.

This program aired on November 5, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.

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