WASHINGTON: United States Senators John McCain and Harry Reid joined forces with promoters and sanctioning bodies in support of a study of head injury in combat sports.
The study, using computerized mental testing and advanced brain imaging, is already under way at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, located in Las Vegas—a city long identified with professional boxing.
A Capitol Hill press conference drew not only Nevada Democrat Reid and Arizona Republican McCain, but also representatives of rival prize fight promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank and officials of who oversee Spike TV’s “Bellator MMA” mixed martial-arts promotion and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
McCain, who boxed at the U.S. Naval Academy and keeps a keen eye on the professional sport, said it was vital that combat sports address the issue of brain injury, just as other sports such as football, rugby and American football are trying to do.
“If we don’t do this, I’m afraid support for these entertaining sports will wane among the American people,” McCain said.
McCain referenced heavyweight great Muhammad Ali, whose debilitating Parkinson’s disease is widely thought to be related to the punishment he took in the ring.
“And his is just one of the stories,” McCain said.
The promoters have agreed to contribute $600,000 to keep the study funded, in addition to the $2 million the Cleveland Clinic has already spent.
Toby Cosgrove, president of the Cleveland Clinic, said knowledge gained from the study will benefit not only boxers and other athletes but also soldiers and others subjected to head trauma.
Those in attendance on Tuesday included International Boxing Federation light heavyweight world title holder Bernard Hopkins, at 49 the oldest man to win a significant boxing belt.
Hopkins said close attention to health matters has been key to his longevity in the sport.
World Boxing Organization super featherweight champion Mikey Garcia also attended.
Some 400 active and retired fighters have agreed to take part in the study that began more than two years ago.
Doctor Jeffrey Cummings, the director of the Ruvo Center, said researchers use computerized mental testing and advanced brain imaging in an effort to pin down exactly which injuries contribute to later degenerative brain disease, whether some people are at greater risk and what the early indicators of brain disease are.
Such information he said, would “empower our athletes” to make responsible decisions about the risks they take.