As an American, I am proud of Olympic Gold medalist Claressa Shields' feat in women's boxing at the Olympics -- but as a woman who has suffered traumatic brain injury, I am deeply concerned that her win will encourage other young women to pursue this dangerous, potentially life-altering sport.
There is no question that repeated blows to the head cause changes in the brain -- even when the head is protected by gear meant to soften the blows. The NFL has come under fire recently because of the link between football-incurred concussions and greatly increased risk of Alzheimer's and other cognitive and memory problems.
The high-profile suicide of former linebacker Junior Seau has once again focused attention on the issue; his family has donated his brain for study to see if his injuries may have played a role in his mental deterioration. The league currently faces lawsuits from more than 2000 former players who believe their injuries have caused irreversible brain damage. A 2009 NFL study showed Alzheimer's was much more likely to occur among former pro-football players than in the general population. Players 30-49 years old had an early Azheimer's rate almost 20 times greater than men in the general population.
I sympathize with those players. In 2003, I took a bad fall, slamming the back of my head to the floor and losing consciousness briefly. Although early MRIs showed no sign of damage, a recent brain scan showed that one side of my frontal lobe had shrunk slightly. My doctors believe the changes occurred as a result of my brain slamming against the inside of my skull -- which is what happens whenever the head rapidly accelerates and then stops or reverses direction from hitting a hard object, shaking, being jerked forward in a car accident, or being hit. Once the first injury occurs, medical evidence suggests that any subsequent injuries, even minor ones, are more likely to cause severe damage.
So why is it we should celebrate encouraging young women to punch each other repeatedly, risking not just broken ribs, cuts and bruises, but serious trauma to their brains? The same, of course, can be said for men. Boxing is a brutal sport, one whose sole purpose is to hurt the opponent while avoiding being hurt yourself. Even football has other goals -- advancing a ball down the field -- which relies on passing, running, and kicking, not just brute force.
There are other reasons to oppose boxing for women. Many feminists see the decision to include women's boxing in the Olympics as a step forward in recognizing equality. These same feminists want to see women in military combat. Their ultimate goal is ignoring any differences between men and women, even when those differences are biologically rooted.
For millennia, women have played an important civilizing role in society. No society has ever existed in which women were the warriors. Males are larger, more powerful and driven by testosterone to be more aggressive than females. Women are life givers -- not life takers. Yes, there are exceptions. Women do commit murder -- though they are far less likely to engage in random or stranger killing than men -- and their murder rate is 10 percent that of males.
I'm sure that there are some women who could do well on the battlefield. And no doubt Shields could defeat many bigger men in the ring. But is more violence and aggressiveness something we really want to encourage in our species? Is there no evolutionary advantage in having half the population play a gentler, more nurturing role that tempers the aggressive tendencies of the other half of our species?
Whatever glory Shields and other boxers earn in the ring will be paid for by future generations of women -- and men -- who are hurt by following their example. Instead of welcoming women into boxing competition, the Olympic Committee would serve society better by eliminating the sport altogether.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal."
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