The surprising reason Olympic boxers don't wear protective head guards

For the first time since 1984, Olympic boxers aren’t wearing head guards during their matches. That’s because, as it turns out, head guards might not protect boxers from head injuries.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which made the decision not to use head guards back in March, says studies suggest fighting without head guards will actually decrease concussions.

In fact, there are three ways that head guards are potentially bad for boxers:

  1. The gear doesn’t protect the jaw. Punches to the jaw are most likely to cause concussions because they whip the head around, according to Wired.
  2. Olympic boxers punch really hard, and the headgear’s foam just isn’t absorbent enough to help. They just allow fighters to sustain more punches over a longer period of time.
  3. They block out peripheral vision, preventing fighters from seeing every punch they’re receiving.

The AIBA says that head guards makes it harder to see, and therefore dodge, punches. One of their studies suggests that it also creates a false sense of safety, leading fighters to take more risks. It also makes their heads a bigger target.

“There’s no evidence protective gear shows a reduction in incidence of concussion,” the AIBA’s medical commission chairman told the Associated Press. “In 1982, when the American Medical Association moved to ban boxing, everybody panicked and put headgear on the boxers, but nobody ever looked to see what the headgear did.”

Regardless, the AIBA is still requiring female boxers to wear headgear. That’s because there hasn’t been much research on the effects of headgear on women for boxing, according to the AIBA.

The science for men is still in development. There aren’t any immediate symptoms for injuries caused by getting many blows to the head over time, which makes them hard to study. These “subconcussive blows” are still a grey area.

“With concussions, you can see it and you can diagnose it,” head injury researcher Blaine Hoshizaki told Wired. “The challenge is the ones you don’t see, don’t feel. This is I think the scary part.”

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