Getting rid of headgear might help boxing

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It seems almost counterintuitive, another idea dreamed up by the people who have been trying to kill amateur boxing for years.

Eliminate headgear, which has been protecting amateur fighters for three decades now? OK, and while we’re at it why not do away with padded gloves and fight with bare knuckles.

Sure enough, though, the headgear is going. Before the year is out, young fighters throughout the world will meet in the ring and be able to recognize the face they’re trying to hit.

That will make for more attractive fights, might even safely secure the Olympic future of a sport that was very iffy in the games for a while. Coupled with a pro-style scoring system, it surely will restore some semblance of a combat sport to what had become fencing with gloves.

It would also seem to be inherently more dangerous. The padding has been there since the 1984 Olympics, and for a reason. It’s supposed to act as a cushion for blows to the head, protecting fighters from concussions and even worse.

Those who run amateur boxing say the headgear doesn’t really work, and may even add to the danger. It encourages fighters to take more blows, they say, and interferes with peripheral vision needed to see a left hook or right cross.

But no one can say for sure.

American fighters in particular have fared poorly recently, partly because many top prospects don’t even bother with the amateurs. They know they can’t win championships and gold medals with the pro style favored in the United States, and understand those have been devalued anyway by the amateur sport’s slow slide into oblivion.

The amateur program is barely hanging on in the U.S., nearly killed off by apathy and incompetent management. Coaches can’t get prospects to adapt to the arcane scoring, not surprising, because there is little use for the amateur style at the professional level. In a sport the U.S. once dominated, male fighters won just one bronze medal in the last two Olympics.

No one will be sad to see the scoring replaced by a 10-point must system, similar to pro-style judging. There probably won’t be much dismay in seeing the headgear go, either. But is it safe? No one knows.

Fighters take a chance they’ll get hurt every time they get in the ring.

Eliminating headgear won’t take the sport back to its heyday, when the Golden Gloves was big and Olympic boxing even bigger. It may, however, put it back in the Olympic spotlight and help create a new generation of boxing fans.

Hopefully, it won’t be at the cost of even more brain injuries.


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