Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2014

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Boxing safety committee optimistic

There was an air of confidence Thursday that a committee charged with recommending ways to make boxing in Nevada safer might actually do just that.

After the first meeting of the Advisory Committee on Boxer Health and Safety, created by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, many of the roughly two dozen attendees came away optimistic that the panel will recommend changes to better protect boxers from serious brain injuries -- or worse.

Topping the list of possible recommendations are heavier gloves that would soften blows, more medical testing, better training and protocols for referees and ringside doctors, and independent monitoring of sparring sessions.

But there also is a consensus that nothing can be done to create absolute safety in a sport in which the aim is to knock out one's opponent.

That the current review is even taking place stems from the fact that 2005 has been the deadliest year in Nevada boxing in 72 years, with fighters Martin Sanchez and Leavander Johnson dying in July and September, respectively, after bouts here.

Those deaths, combined with the fallout from two other local bouts that resulted in career-ending brain injuries, prompted the commission to form the five-member health and safety committee. The panel, which includes three former commissioners, a cardiologist and an assemblyman, has six months to make recommendations.

The lawmaker on the committee, Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, will play a vital role because he is expected to sponsor any legislation arising from the recommendations. The Nevada Legislature does not meet again until 2007, though interim committees could consider emergency bills.

"I don't think there will be a problem with the Legislature," Munford said. "There might be some opposition at the gaming level. But I think legislators will be supportive because boxing is vital to the state's economy. If the legislation protects young boxers, I think the Legislature will be supportive."

Former Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren, a Las Vegas neurosurgeon who attended Thursday's meeting, said he, too, is confident the Legislature would act, in large measure because the committee chairman is Sig Rogich, a politically potent media consultant.

"With Rogich leading the charge, it will be no sweat," said Hammargren, who as lieutenant governor served as president of the state Senate. "Rogich can affect the Legislature, as can Munford."

Rogich, a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush, who maintains ties to national Republican Party leaders, spoke earlier this month with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about boxing health and safety issues. McCain told Rogich that the senator might incorporate some of the boxing committee's recommendations into his federal legislation that would create a national boxing commission.

"There was a lot of candor here today," Rogich said. "We have an opportunity to do extraordinary things here. To have the level of commitment that we've seen today, I think it will be difficult not to act on these issues."

One thing the Legislature may be asked to do is to beef up the state commission's staff, which now includes only executive director Marc Ratner and four assistants.

"I'm pleased how open the discussion was at this meeting," Ratner said. "Only good can come from this."

Ringside doctors, referees and boxing trainers also attended, as did a representative of the New York State Athletic Commission.

Nevada State Commissioner Dr. Flip Homansky, who submitted recommendations co-authored by Dr. Margaret Goodman, a Las Vegas neurologist who chairs the commission's medical advisory board, also was at the meeting.

Goodman and Homansky recommend establishing an international database on boxing fatalities and brain injuries that could help determine whether there is a correlation to those deaths and injuries. They also want better ways to keep tabs on foreign fighters, more orderly weigh-ins the day of the fight, proper training for ringside paramedics, and closer scrutiny of medical questionnaires submitted by boxers.

"This was a great first step," Homansky said of the meeting. "It is an important day in boxing."

Rogich said he hopes the next committee meeting will be within the next few weeks.

Steve Kanigher can be reached at 259-4075 or by at [email protected]

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