16-Year-Old Dies After Sparring: Boxing Safe For Kids?


Raul Alvarez Jr., a 16-year-old resident of North Hollywood, CA, died last Thursday after his sparring partner hit him in the face during boxing practice. Alvarez apparently complained of a headache immediately after he was hit, and lost consciousness shortly after an ambulance rushed him to the hospital. He died an hour later. According to the Huffington Post, both young men were wearing appropriate head protection and standard boxing gloves. Alvarez’s death, however, begs a few questions: is current youth boxing gear protective enough? Should kids even be boxing in the first place? Obviously, as with any controversy involving kids, there are two emphatic sides to this debate.

1. Boxing, the life saver

Boxing is one of those sports that has been embraced by many as a godsend for kids otherwise bound for trouble, especially in the inner city. Aside from actually getting them into shape — which, in light of the childhood obesity epidemic, is all-important — it teaches them discipline, self-control and gives them an outlet for pent-up anger. It also not only keeps kids off the streets and consequently out of trouble, but gives them the confidence and know-how to stand up for themselves when push comes to shove. Many kids who turn to boxing do so out of a need to protect themselves from bullies as they walk home from school in rough, violent neighborhoods.

15-year-old Austin Morrissey, who trains at Ashland Youth Boxing Club outside of Boston, MA had this to say to the Boston Globe:

I had anger issues…I was short-tempered. I had trouble at school, acting out, giving teachers trouble…[Boxing has] taught me to be more controlled…Now I use my emotions inside the ring.  The self-control I’ve learned here I have to take outside.

Steven, a 13-year-old who boxes at John’s Boxing Gym in the Bronx, NY was likewise dubbed a “problem child” until he took up boxing.  He told CNN Health in 2011:

I [learned] how to control myself…If I have something on my mind, a little stress, I just take it out on the bag.

He was apparently ranked in the U.S. as a 12-year-old, and according to his father, his behavior is much more manageable.

2. Boxing, the potential killer

Despite Austin and Steven’s endorsements, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement in 2011 strongly opposing boxing for children under the age of 19.  According to a study on youth boxing injuries in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the number of injuries among kids ages 6-17 increased 211%, from 5,361 in 1990 to 17,000 in 2008. Obviously, some of these injuries would have been relatively minor cuts and abrasions; however, it’s the not-so-minor injuries that have physicians worried. Head trauma is their main concern, as head researcher Dr. Gary Smith explained to Medical News Today:

We expected a smaller proportion of concussions…among younger boxers, since they generate a lower punch force…The fact that young boxers are experiencing a similar proportion of concussions and [closed head injuries] as older boxers is extremely concerning given the potential risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) with repetitive brain trauma. These repetitive blows to the head may be placing boxers under 18 years of age at risk for neurological impairment and psychological problems due to CTE.

Definitely a reason to think twice about letting your kids box.

Pro-youth boxing advocates still insist that boxing’s ability to foster motivation and self-discipline in youth outweighs the risks. According to CNN Health, protective equipment has improved, making severe head injuries rare.  Additionally, Bronx boxing club owner Joe DeGuardia points out that sparring comprises a very small part of overall training, which consists more of conditioning and shadow boxing than actual fist-to-face contact.

Concerned doctors and researchers do recognize the character-building aspect of youth boxing, but point out that several other sports like cycling, tennis or swimming offer the same advantages minus the potential for traumatic head injury. Dr. Smith again makes his stance on boxing quite clear:

Although there is a risk of injury with most sports, boxing is unique because participants are rewarded for intentionally striking their opponent in the face and head with the intent of harming or incapacitating them.

Obviously, the Olympics are here. Not only does this mean a two-week-long visual feast of elite athletic performances, but also that many kids will be inspired to try out a new sport or two themselves, including boxing. Between Alvarez’s recent death, physician warnings and all the heartfelt pro-youth boxing testimonials floating around out there, it’s difficult to decide if the rise of youth boxing really is for better or for worse.

What do you think?

Related Stories:

NFL Sued Over Concussions

Kids With Disabilities Need P.E. Too

Cheerleading: The Most Dangerous Sport for Girls?

Photo Credit: andriux-uk events via Flickr


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

.2 years ago

Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you offer. It's awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same old rehashed material. Fantastic read! I've bookmarked your site and I'm adding your RSS feeds to my Google account. aitinsurance.com

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

horrible..I hate violent sports like boxing, I don't really get why people like watching other people get their faces smashed

Anna Sorensen
Anna Sorensen5 years ago

Kids commit suicide because they are bullied in school. Nobody asks if it's wise to make them go to school.

Said with other words: such things can happen, whatever you are doing. If you are out walking, and you happen to trip and injure yourself, you shouldn't stop walking. Everything has a risk. Boxing might have a bigger risk than other sports, but the positive outcomes outweights them by far.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

You do realize that boxing is a "martial art, right? And the idea that karate/Takwando/etc. is really that much different then boxing is somewhat far-fetched. Except of course that most of the strip mall "martial arts dojos" I have encountered are really just after your money.

David L.
David L.5 years ago

If I had a child who was physically able to go through it (I'm not due to Cerebral Palsy), I'd rather he study martial arts than boxing. Yes, it's violent, bloody and barbaric, but it's more than just an overwhelming desire to kick [butt]. It teaches self-control, discipline, get them exercise (if it'll help combat the child obesity epidemic everyone's so crazy about), and the advice you get from the sensei shall tell you when it's appropriate to fight and when it's not. More bullying victims can have this type of self-discipline if they are taught this kind of self-discipline through an outlet like martial arts, then we wouldn't have to worry about these kinds of kids getting suspended from schools.

Now, if only we can get the school boards to quit covering up for bullies all the time, but that's a post for another day, I'm afraid.

Milan L.
Milan L5 years ago

When I was 17yo on one occasion I gave in to provocation and punched an older boy in the face. He didn't hit back. I am still ashamed of that lapse, whenever I remember it. I am now 88 and in all that time I have never used my fist to hurt anyone again. It is possible to go through life without boxing. None of my 5 sons and 6 grandsons have ever boxed or taken interest in martial "arts". I like to think that Dads Example has something to do with it. If only I could start a pandemic !

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

When I was 14 years old my father died in a motorcycle accident. I was a hurt, angry, and lost kid. Weightlifting and boxing gave me an outlet for those feelings, built my self-esteem, gave me a sense of who I was, and helped build upon the values of hard work and self-discipline that my father had already instilled.

I boxed Golden Gloves at 16 but eventually gave up the competitive boxing but continued the weightlifting for the rest of my life. Now some 35 years later I work out six days a week weighlifting and working the heavy bag in my gym. People want to take this away from the next generation of young people becaue a boy tragically died? Have you looked at the number of injuries that result from cheerleading?

Yes, boxing can be dangerous, but with proper equipment (headgear, proper gloves, etc.) it is no more dangerous than other contact sports. The extremes of Parkinson's syndrome and "punch drunk" damage is generally limited to professionals who have boxed too long.

You cannot safety proof the world and there are many positive benefits to boxing.

Paula G.
Paula G5 years ago

I agree with William who encourages sports such as karate and other such sports as a safer way to realize your potential. It also encourages self control as opposed to boxing which brings out all of one's aggression. In what other sport does one bite off the opponent's ear? It has been scientifically proven that such sports (and team contact sports like hockey and fooitball) are not good for people with anger issues. Yes they are a way out of the ghetto for many kids but what is the point of getting ot if your brain becoes mush or your knees are destroyed to the point that you can hardly walk?