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Monday, November 25, 2013

No Holds Barred: Dr. Margaret Goodman on Concussions, CTE, Dementia, and the Future of Combat Sports 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist, the former chair of the Medical Advisory Board of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and the president and board chairman of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.

We spoke with her by phone Sunday, mainly about one of the many health issues facing the combat sports: concussions and the subsequent risks of dementia and diseases like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

"You can generalize, and you can say that what we know today is, getting hit in the head in any kind of sport, whether it be football, baseball, boxing, or MMA, is not good for the brain," she said.

"How good it's not for the brain hasn't really been established as far as how much trauma can someone sustain before they're predisposed to a condition like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And those factors are still unknown."

However, she cautioned, "But what we do know is concussions or trauma to the head is additive. So the more punishment you take to your head, especially over a shorter period of time, often in the short time of a career of an MMA fighter or a boxer, has a whole bunch of risks as far as predisposing someone to a dementing illness."

We discussed how trauma to the head can lead to serious brain diseases even in young athletes and especially children, why children are more predisposed to these diseases than adults, and how many in the combat sports are turning "one blind eye to what's going on."

All the studies about the dangers on concussions and the prevalence of CTE in former NFL football players "should be a wakeup call" to those in combat sports where striking the head and trying to score a knockout are key, legal parts of the sport.

We discussed the old saying from the 1990s that "MMA is safer than boxing," and whether or not that can still be said to be true, assuming it ever was.

She was especially critical of the regulators of sports like boxing and MMA, who are largely "ignoring what is happening to the NFL." She said, referring not just to bad scoring, but to health and safety issues, "We're not regulating these sports properly." We also discussed the dangers of rapid weight-cutting, and what might be changed in order to minimize these dangers.

But with the growing body of scientific studies and literature on concussions and CTE, with these issues seeming only to mount in the combat sports, with increased public attention all the time on the effects of head trauma involving high-profile athletes like Georges St-Pierre, with no solution in sight to these problems, and with the likelihood of more tragedies and premature deaths facing these athletes, we had to ask some very tough questions, to which there are not easy answers.

Can the combat sports survive? Which ones are likeliest to go the way of smoking and becoming socially unacceptable and severely decline? Can combat sports with no striking to the head, like the various styles of grappling and wrestling, fill what may be a coming void? And what should those of us presently involved in various capacities with the combat sports do about all this?

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