Humankind has always had a fascination with contact sports – and there’s no denying that they can be dangerous. Broken bones, torn muscles and head injuries are common, whether an athlete is a boxer, a hockey player, a football star or a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.
How much responsibility does a ringside doctor or team physician have to stop a fight or game if they think that a participant is injured or the brutality of the contest has gone too far? For many doctors, the ethical dilemmas are getting harder and harder.
The long-term consequences were once poorly understood
Boxers (even the great Muhammad Ali) have long been known to suffer from cognitive issues in their later years – and it was always acknowledged that the pummeling they took in the ring could contribute to that.
However, it’s only been in recent years that it has become apparent that even minor head injuries can have devastating cumulative effects over the long run. A series of small concussions today can leave a patient with atrophy of their brain stem, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease and other disorders in the future.
For years, officials and medical professionals involved in the National Football League even downplayed the issue, despite evidence to the contrary piling up. It wasn’t until former players brought a billion-dollar class action lawsuit that changes were made in procedures to try to reduce the risks – and even those changes are met with controversy from fans who feel like restrictions and rules are “ruining the game.”
This is often what puts team doctors in a bind. On one hand, they don’t want to stop a fight or pull a player out of a game unnecessarily because that makes fans angry and disappointed (and potentially puts their position with the team in danger). On the other, they owe their patients – every MMA fighter in the ring or player on the field – a duty of care.
The reality is that team physicians often make the wrong call, whether that’s due to pressure from their bosses or fans or even the players themselves. When that happens, lives can be destroyed. If you or your loved one has suffered an injury because a team doctor didn’t do their job very well, you may have legal options.