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Covering up concussions at West Point

Posted by John Reed on

Interesting article at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/us/despite-concussions-boxing-is-still-required-for-military-cadets.html?_r=0. It is about freshman mandatory boxing at West Point.

Teddy Roosevelt started it at West Point

President Theodore Roosevelt made boxing mandatory at West Point. Also horseback riding and swordsmanship. They got rid of the horses and swordsmanship in the 1940s I think. But we had to do the boxing when I was there. I thought it was super for instilling the idea that in war you either hit or get hit and hitting is better. Football also does that, but although they have intramural football at West Point, it is not mandatory. It was mandatory that you participate in at least one contact sport during your four years at West Point.

Doctors say boxing is too dangerous anywhere any time

Anyway, the medical profession long ago recommended that boxing as a sport be ended for medical reason. Too many head injuries. The three major service academies ignored that. They also have intercollegiate boxing at the service academies and there was an annual boxing tournament that anyone can enter within the Academy. Oddly, it was recommended for cadets who ranked low in “aptitude for the service”—a combination of popularity contest and how much your classmates respected you. Guys who were disliked and/or disrespected were advised to enter the boxing tournament as a way of winning respect. It seemed to work for them actually. I never had any interest in that tournament.

Too many concussions at the service academies

The Times story says the academies have been covering up the surprising number of concussions that boxing causes. I do not recall ever hearing about any when I was there—or since. And they now have rules limiting the types of punches that can be thrown in each round. We had no such—back when men were men and women were glad of it and ships were made of wood (excuse me for that little bit of doggerel from West Point).

Gotta find another way to get this lesson learned

The academies are trying to find a substitute that will accomplish the same purpose. Cadets apparently said they think hand-to-hand combat training was better prep for combat—which begs the question of how they would know—few are combat vets—but that they said boxing was good for testing and teaching courage. I disagree. I think the purpose of boxing and football is to teach you that you must be the hitter rather than the hittee.

‘I don’t get hit. I hit.’

My oldest son played youth football and was an Ivy League tailback at the end of his football career. One of his classmates tried youth football for a year. We ran into his mom once after that season and asked if he was coming back the following year. “No,” she said. “He doesn’t like being hit.”

I immediately turned to my son and asked, “Do you like being hit?”

He got a puzzled look on his face and said, “I don’t GET hit. I hit.”

He was not being macho or reciting something he had heard. It was just an instinctive reaction to the question. Dan was a football player by that point. His friend was not and never became one.

Getting religion

I once did a radio show with Tom Harmon, the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner, Michigan tailback. At lunch, I mentioned how I was a lousy football player until one day I got really pissed and I started raging around like a bull in a china shop. My defensive coordinator started calling me “Tiger Reed.”

Tom said, “Yeah, we call that getting religion.” He went on to explain that his son Mark played youth football. Mark has long been a TV star. Tom’s wife asked Tom why he was not helping Mark in youth football. “He hasn’t gotten religion yet. Until he gets religion, I can’t help him. He is still shying away from hitting and being the hitee rather than the hitter.”
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Mark did get religion and went on to be the starting QB at UCLA. But some kids go out for football and NEVER get religion—like my son’s classmate. I think if they persevered, they would eventually. Basically, you get tired of getting pounded and eventually decide you’re going to show the other guy that he can’t keep doing that to you and never get it back. Fine, whatever way you get religion, at least you got it. But you MUST get it.


War is not optional

Football is an extracurricular activity. It’s optional. War is not. And losing is not an option. I do not like the idea of platoon leaders and NCOs in combat who are like that kid who quit football. The lesson of hit or be hit, it seems to me, MUST be in the heads of all combat platoon leaders. MUST.

Whether boxing is required to do that, I would not know. But something that gets it done IS required. A mother of an Air Force Academy cadet said they should not have boxing because the air force does not box in combat. Well, sometimes they might after bailing out. Also, air combat itself probably requires the same mindset as boxing and playing football.

Combat ain’t dodge ball

The key point, which the mom does not have a freaking clue about, is that fighting to the death is a different experience from normal life. So is playing football, especially defense and blocking and carrying the ball. (QBs and kickers may be more the Thomson’s gazelles of the football field, rather than the tigers. I was mainly a defensive end.) Not only West Pointers, but all U.S. front line Army leaders MUST acquire the hitter, rather than the hitee mind-set.


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