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The New York Times published a story about concussions from boxing at US military academies, where apparently boxing is a required course for all male students.

For more than a century, boxing for male freshmen here has been a rite of passage and an academic requirement — one they share with male cadets at the Air Force Academy, and midshipmen of both sexes at the Naval Academy. Officials say there is no better way to teach the grit needed for combat.

This article says the following about concussions:

Boxing accounts for nearly one out of every five concussions at West Point, and one out of four at the Air Force Academy. So far this school year, boxing has caused a quarter of all concussions at the Naval Academy — more than twice as many as football.

...

In the last three academic years, West Point has documented 97 concussions from boxing, more than any other sport, including football. The Air Force Academy has reported 72, and the Naval Academy 29.

There is no context of how boxing compares to other activities that may cause concussions. I do not expect, for example, that all students play American football.

There is a brief description of the course:

Cadets at West Point now wear thick padded gloves. In sparring bouts, fighters can throw only one hook, one cross and one uppercut per round. And after each of the 19 classes and three test bouts, coaches give a short talk, telling cadets to report to the health clinic if they feel symptoms of concussion.

I do not have boxing training. Are concussions a common problem among beginning boxing students? Or is this more a problem with putting largely untrained boxing students together to pummel each other to learn bravery?

8

An analysis of the literature in 2006 presented data for a number of team and individual contact sports.

Concussions in boxing were identified at a rate of 0.8/10 rounds (for pros) or 7.9/1000 man-minutes (amateur). So in a pro bout you can expect one guy or the other to be concussed on average, and one guy or the other to be concussed per hour on average in amateur bouts. This is comparable to concussion rates for females in taekwondo.

This sounds like a lot, but ice hockey reports 6.5 (pro) or 3.6 (high school) concussions per 1000 player games.... with 20 players on your roster you can expect one concussion every three (pro) or six (HS) games. This is a similar rate for pro rugby (nine concussions per 1000 player-games... assuming you are playing 15 per side).

Current class size is about 4300 cadets (per wikipedia), so assuming you have say 1000 first-year cadets all doing boxing you would expect the reported concussion rate of 97 over three years if each cadet fought one round. Given that the article states that each cadet has three test bouts their reported rate of concussion seems rather low.

EDIT

Subsequent to the initial post I found additional data that discusses death rates in boxing. The impetus behind this was a recent news report on high school football deaths in the USA. The following text taken from the data cited gives an interesting perspective on the safety of boxing. Even though this diverges from the original question I thought this would be of interest. Emphasis in the text is mine.

Between 1931 and 1999, at least 616 American football players died of injuries, heat stroke, or exertion. At least a million youths play American football each year, so the risk of death in American football is about 8.9 per million (616/69 x 1,000,000). Meanwhile, during the period January 1979 to May 2003, 16 amateur boxers died in the United States. Using the numbers posited above, that works out to a risk factor of about 13.9 per million for the boxers. Thus, risk of death in amateur boxing appears to be somewhat higher than the risk of death in American football. Nonetheless, both amateur boxers and high school football players are much less likely to die of athletic injuries than they are to die in Mom’s car on the way to or from practice. After all, death rates for some popular models of sport utility vehicle run as high as 251 per million.

  • Wow, that frequency of concussions in boxing is huge; a boxing rate of man-minutes comparable to rugby player-games indicates to me the boxing dangers are more than an order of magnitude larger. Looks like the academies are doing a decent job with a sport that is really dangerous. – mattm Sep 30 '15 at 11:47
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    @mattm - I wonder whether or not there is observer bias in the boxing data. Given that a fighter has to get checked by a medical doctor both before and after a fight (amateur or pro), the rate of unreported concussions is probably a lot lower than in team sports like rugby and hockey where medical checks don't happen (for example see nytimes.com/2010/11/02/sports/hockey/02concussions.html?_r=0). – Doug B Sep 30 '15 at 12:30

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