Sports injuries make up one-fifth of all injury-related visits to emergency departments, according to research from the CDC. Most sports, such as basketball, cycling, football, soccer and hockey for example, pose varying levels of risk. But, according to a prominent disability organization, the dangerous sport of slap fighting is especially risky, with the potential to cause debilitating traumatic brain damage.
Slap fighting, also known as slap boxing, centers on two opponents standing arm’s length apart, taking turns slapping each other in the face. Especially gaining popularity among fans of boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA) and other combat sports, the end goal is merely to see which fierce competitor can withstand the open-palm blows the longest.
Now thanks to a primetime television show, a much larger audience is being introduced to slap fighting. Airing on TBS, “The Power Slap: The Road to the Title” is a reality-style series following aggressive athletes working their way through the ranks of this unnecessarily risky and brutal recreation.
Pushing Back for Safety
Because slap fighters are not permitted to dodge the violent hits or defend themselves in any way, concerned leaders are sounding alarms about this dangerous sport.
For example, The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), the country’s oldest and largest nationwide brain injury advocacy organization, released an eye-opening letter calling on the Nevada Athletic Commission to recant their official support of this dangerous sport. It was just recently, in October 2022, that the Commission sanctioned slap fighting as a professional sport for the region. However, BIAA asserts that slap fighting comes with a significant threat of participants developing traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, violent blows may result in fractures to facial bones, ear drum ruptures and other serious injuries.
“What is being portrayed for the public to witness first-hand is a real time laboratory for sustaining a traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Gregory O’Shanick, Medical Director Emeritus at BIAA. “Blunt force trauma to the head, especially repetitive impacts over a brief period of time, result in changes in brain function that have devastating consequences for many individuals.”
Experts within the medical community, sports industry and even political leaders are echoing BIAA’s concerns surrounding the health and safety of participants of “The Power Slap” — and the dangerous sport in general. In fact, U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Don Bacon (R-NE-02) penned a letter seeking answers from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav about the worrisome television program. The correspondence urges the network to pull “The Power Slap” from its schedule and, at the very least, increase warnings to viewers about the dangers of the sport’s violence and brain injury prevention. The latter is important because, according to BIAA, the show is spreading inaccurate, harmful messages about the serious risks of traumatic brain injuries (through both the televised episodes and social media posts).
“Power Slap participants may not demonstrate immediate injury, but the unnecessary damage caused to their brain will have long-lasting and disastrous consequences,” the political Members wrote. “Endeavor Productions, TBS and UFC appear to have created and profited off a deadly television show, with significant reach and impact, without implementing basic and commonsense safety protocols.”
Dangerous Sport with Painful Prize
That’s directly correlated to the questions that remained after the sport was sanctioned. You see, the rules as approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission make no mention of a process or procedures for determining if a participant has developed a concussion. A concussion is caused by a hit, blow or jolt to the body or head which forces the brain to move rapidly back and forth. Very common among combat sports, concussions are indeed traumatic brain injuries. And it is an unfortunate misconception that concussions are not serious. It is important that those who sustain a concussion receive a proper, timely assessment and treatment; and, furthermore, not sustain multiple concussions as this increases the likelihood of developing post-concussive syndrome (PCS) or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Repeated concussions have been shown to increase the likelihood of developing other neurological disorders as well. [To learn about the physical, sensory, cognitive, behavioral and mental symptoms of concussion, read this guide crafted by the Mayo Clinic.]
The Mayo Clinic says that mild traumatic brain injury may affect one’s brain cells temporarily. But more-serious traumatic brain injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain. And these injuries can result in long-term complications, disabilities or death. In 2021, for example, Artur “Waluś” Walczaka, a 46-year-old slap fighter from Poland, died from injuries sustained following a vicious knockout.
So, is slap fighting even a “sport?” And is sensationalizing this dangerous sport worth the risk? Well, there’s much debate about these basic questions and more. Share your thoughts with AmeriDisability on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.