Since this is my first piece for a magazine with “brain” in the title, I figure I can’t go wrong writing about somebody’s brain. That somebody is “Baby” Joe Mesi, Buffalo, NY native and one-time contender for the heavyweight title. I say one-time because Mesi’s stint in the ring seems to be coming to an unceremonious close. Not because of his record (29-0, with 25 knockouts), mind you, or because he’s too old, or too fat, or too slow. No, Joe Mesi fought the law and – wouldn’cha know it? — the law won.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), the sanctioning body for all boxing in the state of Nevada, revoked Mesi’s license to fight because an MRI taken after one of Mesi’s victories showed that a couple of blood vessels on his brain had burst. That’s known as a subdural hematoma to those of us who commonly use Ancient Greek terminology. The NSAC has decreed that anyone sustaining a cerebral hematoma cannot fight again for fear of more severe brain injury.
Sound reasonable? I say no. Well-intentioned though they may be, regulatory agencies like the NSAC lack the flexibility to decide issues on a case-by-case basis. If there’s a rule on the books, they’re going to follow it like zombies on a flesh hunt. Never mind that the NSAC should never have known about Mesi’s condition in the first place (the hospital erroneously sent his MRI results to the New York State Athletic commission, which Mesi says leaked them to the NSAC), or that the ruptured blood vessels have disappeared on later scans, or that leading sports medicine experts have said Mesi is at no greater risk now than he was before the hematomas. That’s all immaterial as far as the NSAC is concerned, because their rulebook says in black and white that anyone who sustains a cerebral hematoma can’t ever fight again. And to add insult to putative injury, the boxing commissions of other states must, by federal law, follow the NSAC’s ruling, depriving Mesi of any venue in which to fight. Hey, rules must be followed.
But, beyond the crushing of Mesi’s dreams by the sluggish monomania of centralized decision-making, there lies a more sinister consequence to the NSAC’s action. Fighters now know that they’ll be banned from the sport should virtually any sort of brain injury come to light. As a result, they’re going to be much less likely to seek diagnosis and treatment. And who can blame them? These men are being forced to pit the potential loss of their livelihood (not to mention the failure of a lifelong dream) against the phantom menace of some undiscovered, possibly harmless injury. Instead of making all fighters safer, the NSAC’s ruling gives fighters who choose to bury their heads in the sand an advantage over fighters who choose to risk their careers by having an MRI or CT scan. It’s a classic case of perverse incentives created by wrongheaded regulation.
Here’s the truth: fighters are going to keep fighting, period. Anybody who’s ever seen Felix Trinidad “retire” or a middle-aged George Forman duke it out with Michael Moorer knows it. Boxing is just what these guys do. Enforcing arbitrary bright-line rules only encourages everyone to “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to brain injuries. The result of the NSAC’s rule is the exact opposite of its intent. That should come as no surprise to economists, who have documented the law of unintended consequences in everything from affirmative action to rent control.
“But wait!” says my deranged, statist side, “why not just require all fighters to get brain scans after a bout?” You could; but who’s going to pay for all those expensive tests? The fighters? And what happens when dozens, even hundreds of boxers get locked out of the sport for harmless, temporary injuries? Maybe we should make them wear headgear and slap each other with pillows? And then when everyone changes the channel to watch the hot-dog eating championships of Southern Kanagawa, and our new, improved powder-puff pugilism goes out of business, what do we do? Floating and stinging notwithstanding, every fight they take, boxers get their heads whacked for about a half-hour. Believe it or not, they’re actually aware of this prospect. How about, instead of treating them like children and sending them to the principal’s office after each fight, we pretend that they’re grown men — and women — who can weigh their personal risk on their own?
So, is Joe Mesi the greatest fighter I ever saw? Nah. Could he one day be heavyweight champion? Maybe. God knows the division these days is filled with more mopes than a funeral procession. But does he deserve a shot? You’re damn right he does. And no central governing body should have the right to decide Mesi’s — or anybody else’s — acceptable level of risk. When you think about it, that’s as true of political science as it is of the sweet science.
Eric Neigher is a lawyer, freelance journalist and occasional piano player from Southern California.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire