The report (by H. E. Kenney, E. A. Thacker, M.D., and H. C. Gebhart) was based on a questionnaire sent to pathologists, coroners, neurologists, psychiatrists, athletic directors and directors of health services, many of whom knew nothing about boxing. It concluded that "boxing should not be included in the sports program of an educational institution," though its data had far more to do with prizefighting than with college boxing. It implied dire things about punch-drunkness among college boxers, without ever establishing that there was any. It asserted that boxing's most common injuries are "insidious," hinting that hidden brain injury is a usual effect of boxing. It held that college boxing bouts are "impossible to control," though they are in fact remarkably well controlled.
A month after this report appeared the legislative council of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation adopted a resolution against boxing in high schools. In time college boxing came to be affected.
The Illinois report implied that 12 universities discovered instances of punch-drunkness among college boxers. If this were true it might be considered reason enough for a college to abandon boxing, but the report was, to say the least, unfair in this regard. Under the heading "Boxing Casualties," it said:
"1. Number of universities reporting cases of 'punch-drunkness' resulting from boxing program—12.
"(Types of disorders included—disturbances of equilibrium, vacant look in eyes, headache, dizziness, personality changes, deterioration of concentration and attention, impediment of speech, vomiting, unsteady gait.)"
Individuals at some universities reported instances of single symptoms, as cited, and some of these symptoms are part of the very subtle and complicated "punch drunkness syndrome." These single symptoms were attributed, without proof, to boxing and then were lumped together in the report in a way that made it appear that actual cases of punch-drunkness had been discovered among college boxers.
Doctors familiar with boxing will tell you that the punch-drunkness diagnosis is very difficult to make. There is good reason to believe that the condition is much rarer among professional fighters than is popularly assumed, and that it never has occurred as a result of college boxing. A layman cannot hope to tell whether a given ex-fighter—thick of speech, with shuffling gait—is suffering from punch-drunkness or tertiary syphilis. It must be noted that, before penicillin, syphilis was not too uncommon among prizefighters. Other ailments, like brain tumors, can cause the symptoms, too.
Gordon Cobbledick, veteran sports editor of the
Cleveland Plain Dealer
, reported a couple of years ago that he had "never seen an authenticated case of what is popularly known as punch drunkenness."
"I have known some depressing wrecks of former fighters," he wrote, "stumbling, shuffling, mumbling, dull-eyed and duller-witted hulks who once were men, but I have never known one of whom it could be said with certainty that his condition resulted from blows to the head.
"Many of them had little brain to begin with. They were the get of moronic parents. Their formative years were spent in degrading slums. They were incapable of assimilating education. The ring offered them a livelihood, but when their fighting days were over they hit the skids."