Retired cardiac surgeon Dr. Charles Butler, a former president of USA Boxing and the chairman of AIBA’s medical commission, compared the rate of concussions one with and one without headgear. The results were astounding. Butler examined 28,802 rounds, in which headguards were worn in slightly more than 14,000 and in which they were not worn in slightly under 14,000. The results: a 43 percent reduction in concussions in bouts in which headguards weren’t worn versus bouts in which they were. In other words, Butler’s study showed a boxer was far more likely to sustain a concussion if he wore a headguard than if he did not.
It seems paradoxical, at best, but Butler said several other studies have produced similar results. It is the reason that boxers in the 2016 Olympics are not wearing headguards. “When you look at what does the headguard protect, the only thing they’re measuring is linear acceleration. But what [gives you] a concussion is rotational acceleration. And a headguard gives you no protection on the chin and no protection from rotational acceleration.” The headguard also reduces a fighter’s vision, he said, and athletes can react to an opponent’s blow up to five percent slower as a result of that. “An important consideration in the use of protective equipment is the concept of risk compensation,” one study reported. “This is where the use of protective equipment results in behavioral change such as the adoption of more dangerous playing techniques, which can result in a paradoxical increase in injury rate.”