The UFC, NFL, boxing, and MMA seem like they’re very different from one another. But one thing is true among all of these sports and organizations: Concussions and brain damage are real dangers to the athletes who compete. In fact, on October 16, 2019, professional boxer Patrick Day passed away from brain injuries he suffered in his last match. His tragic death deeply affected the sports community.
Patrick Day’s death
On October 12, Day fought Charles Conwell, an undefeated Olympic-level boxer. This was, for all intents and purposes, a journeyman fight. Conwell was the clear favorite, and promoters hoped Day would serve as a stepping stone for Conwell’s career. However, Day persevered, despite being outclassed by Conwell for the whole fight.
Although he was knocked down by Conwell twice, Day went the full 10 rounds with his opponent. He stayed competitive, according to ESPN, and that’s why the referee never ended the fight until Conwell knocked the 27-year-old down a final time in the 10th round.
Day’s head hit the canvas and from there, he never woke up. He passed away from his injuries four days later.
Brain damage, concussions, and CTE
Unfortunately, Day’s story isn’t an uncommon one. Men and women in many sports have suffered similar fates due to head trauma. A Russian boxer, Maxim Dadashev, died this summer from injuries he suffered in the ring. Like Day, Dadashev was beaten up for the whole fight, but he was never down and out.
Some people blame boxing gloves for this. This gear does a great job of protecting a boxer’s hands, but this also means they can keep punching hard even if their opponent clearly isn’t going to win. The result of extra hard punches is that the opponent absorbs a lot more damage than they would’ve if the fight stopped earlier.
Most athletes won’t die from brain damage, but many still carry it for the rest of their lives. Muhammad Ali spent his final days battling the brain damage he suffered from boxing. Many former NFL players have CTE, which stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that affects people who suffer a lot of repeated brain damage.
MMA fighters face this problem as well, despite using different gloves than boxers. Gary Goodridge, who competed in the very first UFC event, has CTE. A Brazilian MMA fighter, Joao Carvalho, died after his last fight due to the injuries he suffered.
Of course, concussions are everywhere in these contact sports. Russell Wilson famously got one. In terms of boxing and the UFC, a concussion is almost expected whenever someone gets knocked out.
What can be done?
Unfortunately, Day wasn’t the first person to die after boxing, and he likely won’t be the last. The boxing world is still trying to figure out how to solve this problem, but the NFL, among other organizations, already took steps to reduce and minimize brain damage its players may receive.
Namely, the most important thing is to avoid repeated brain damage after a concussion’s been identified. The NFL will remove a player from a game if they have a concussion. Afterward, constant rest and examinations can help ensure the concussion’s gone and the player is fit to play.
But in other sports, it’s less clear what should be done. In boxing and MMA, punching and kicking others in the head is the name of the game. In sports like hockey and football, it’s not enough — even with helmets. Science is trying to find new ways to identify these issues early. For now, tragic deaths like Day’s remain a reality for fans and athletes.