In the Ring: Harry Reid, John McCain Look to KO Boxing Brain Injuries

In a rare bipartisan moment, Reid and McCain come together to fight boxing head injuries

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. talks about unemployment benefits during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.

In one corner, at 5’9″ weighing in at 160 pounds, is the 74-year-old is the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In the other, is the 5’9″, 165-pound 77-year old former Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain. Fifty years ago, the two former amateur boxers might have gone a few rounds in the ring. “I’ve found that Senator Reid is a very resourceful fighter,” McCain laughs. “I’m not sure of the outcome, but it sure would’ve been a lot of fun.”

On Tuesday the two senators crossed party lines in support of government-funded study on traumatic brain injuries caused by boxing. “I’ve fought a number of fights at a very low level,” said Reid, a former Nevada Gaming Commissioner. “But I’ve judged hundreds of fights. I had the opportunity to judge a fight with the great Sugar Ray Robinson… As we all know the 150-200 fights he had really took their toll. We all know he ended up really sick.”

The study, funded in part by the Defense Department, looks for any early warning signs of head trauma and seeks to predict reactions to various head injuries, according to Jeffrey Cummings, a medical director at the Cleveland Clinic, which is leading the study. Some 400 fighters from boxing, ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts are already participating in the study. A total of 650 participants is envisioned. “I want to be sitting in my old days saying that I played a part in the future,” says Bernard Hopkins, IBF light heavyweight champion, who is participating in the study. “You train every day, sparring, pounding, day in and day out. The damage isn’t done by a blow in a fight but in the accumulation of damage in the gym.”

McCain said the lawmakers hoped to link the study to others being conducted by the Pentagon on traumatic brain injuries caused by IED attacks in Afghanistan. The Cleveland Clinic has already spent $2 million on the project with another $600,000 committed from other partners.

In the meantime, Reid said he expected partisan sparring to continue as usual. “I saw my friend John McCain at the elevators a few weeks ago and he said, ‘Oh, I’m going to kick the shit out of you,'” Reid laughed. “And I said, ‘I would expect nothing less.'”