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Interview with Dr. John Neidecker: “Combat Sports Should Be Held To A Higher Standard”

Posted on 08/14/2018

By: Sean Crose

“I’m a primary care sports medicine doctor,” John Neidecker tells me. Dr. Neidecker, an engaging individual, is the man behind a major Consensus Statement from the Association of Ringside Physicians., a Consensus which has recently been published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The subject? “Concussion management in combat sports.” Neidecker, it should be noted, is a huge fan of combat sports himself. A veteran ringside physician, he’s seen firsthand how impressive the fight game can be. “Combat sports has always been a love of mine,” he says.

Yet Neidecker is also a man who wants to see these sports improve in the area of fighter safety. For instance, “when it comes to ringside medicine,” he tells me, “there’s a large degree of background.” In other words, a ringside physician might or might not be the most qualified person for the task at hand. “You don’t need my background to be a ringside doctor,” he adds (Neidecker specializes in “concussion sports management”). As he sees it: “If you’re going to be a ringside physician, you need to know ringside medicine.” It all seems obvious enough, yet the obvious is sometimes overlooked in the arena of combat sports.

What’s so stunning about the Association’s Consensus is that at least some of its’ recommendations haven’t been universally accepted for decades. For instance, the Association wants fighters to be suspended from fighting professionally and/or sparring for a reasonably short period of time after they have suffered a knockout or TKO loss. They also want these fighters to be cleared by a specialist before returning to the sport. Such measures will allow these fighters to keep from being damaged severely in the practice of their trade while still permitting them time to make a living. A first time KO or TKO without loss of consciousness, for instance, would require a suspension of 30 days…hardly a draconian measure in an era where the top boxers in the world fight once or twice a year.

Interestingly enough, the seed that would eventually grow into the Consensus began to take shape during the course of Neidecker’s daily life (he had just treated three high school football players on the day we spoke). “I noticed the gap myself,” he says, “between what was being done in combat sports compared to what was being done in other sports.” It became clear to Neidecker that “we really need to do something about this.” And how long did it take the Association to create the Consensus Statement available today? Around two years. “It’s a monumental task,” he says of working on such a project.

“We actually put out a document on our website,” he claims. The Association knew, though, that in order to be taken seriously, the Consensus had to be “published in a major medical journal.” Enter the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “It’s international,” Neidecker says of the publication. “This journal has a lot of exposure.” What’s more, Neidecker claims “this is the journal where the most recent consensus in non-combat sports was published in.” “The fact that other sports have taken measures that combat sports haven’t in order to lessen the impact of head trauma clearly troubles Neidecker. “Combat sports should be held to a higher standard than other sports,” he tells me.

The physician makes it clear, however, that boxing isn’t like other sports. There’s no one ruling body that oversees the sweet science. “These are guidelines,” he says of the contents of the Consensus. “It’s up to the various commissions” to decide to implement those guidelines. Yet Neidecker also states a ringside physician has a legal right to enact the Consensus’ guidelines, even if a particular commission isn’t interested in doing so. “These things can be enforced without the commission enforcing them,” he says. “You can implement them.”

Neidecker claims the contents of the Consensus aren’t permanent . In fact, he says the Consensus will be altered over time. “We’re going to revise,” he tells me. “For the sport to survive, you need to adapt.” Unlike some who are critical of boxing for the danger it represents, this ringside doctor is not hostile to the athletic endeavors he wishes to impact.

“You don’t do this,” he says, “unless you love it.”

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