"Of course such accidents do happen," he added. "But to say the least, they are exceedingly rare in boxing in schools and colleges."
Dr. Anthony R. Curreri, professor of surgery at Wisconsin, has been close to boxing, amateur and professional, for many years. Lest his love of the sport be construed as prejudicial, he held himself aloof from the university's boxing study, but he could have foreseen the results.
The electroencephalogram, though not a perfect test for brain damage, was used in brain-wave studies of the Wisconsin boxers, just as it has been used elsewhere to study the effects of blows on prizefighters.
"There would be more risk of finding an abnormal electroencephalogram among the general run of students than among the student boxers," Dr. Curreri said. "The boxers have better coordination than the average student. I am firmly convinced that you will find no college boxer with impairment of brain function. There is little chance for a boy to be hurt. It is a calculated risk and the values of the sport are worth it."
Even professional boxing is not as bad as it has been painted medically, according to two doctors, Harry A. Kaplan and Jefferson Browder, who were retained by the New York State boxing commission to study the effects of head blows in professional fighting. They studied 1,043 professionals, using electroencephalograms, regular and slow-motion movies, and "clinical observations at ringside."
Their conclusions, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included a statement that "the amount of damage that may be inflicted to the brain by a blow to the head with a gloved fist, during a properly conducted professional boxing contest, rarely produces cerebral changes demonstrable by any test that we have at the present time." There is no evidence, either, they declared, to support the common medical opinion that a knockout is caused by numerous pinpoint hemorrhages in the brain.
The problems certain to arise from college boxing's false identification with prizefighting were recognized by the coaches in the very beginning. Until 1937 the college sport was presented under rules quite similar to the professional game, with eight-ounce gloves a standard, but the etiquette was deliberately different. As in tennis, the roar of the crowd was discouraged. Bouts were stopped if the audience got too noisy. Referees and judges wore dinner jackets. So did most of the men students, for the bouts often preceded dances and the girls wore evening dress.
Even so, there was plenty of blood, and in 1938 the rules began to be modified to get rid of some of it. At present the 12-ounce glove is used and it is filled with foam rubber instead of the hair and felt padding used in professional gloves. The padding is, furthermore, almost entirely on the striking surface, and impact is thereby greatly reduced. The college boxer wears a protective head-guard which not only helps prevent cuts about the eyes ( Idaho State has not had a single cut since adoption of the headguard) but also reduces the shock of the back of the head banging against the canvas. At some colleges a new ring padding, extremely resilient, is used. You can drop eggs on the stuff without breaking them. It does not impede good footwork and is another safeguard for the head.
But perhaps even more important than these devices is the fact that the rules lay great stress on credit for good defensive work and great responsibility on the referee to stop a bout the instant it appears that a boxer is clearly outclassed.