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Early deaths? Neuroscientist says we’ll see CTE ‘sooner rather than later’ if Power Slap continues

A neuroscientist believes we will see CTE in slap fighters “sooner rather than later because some fighters will die young...”

Neuroscientist Chris Nowinski believes we will see CTE in slap fighters “sooner rather than later...”
Neuroscientist Chris Nowinski believes we will see CTE in slap fighters “sooner rather than later...”
Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

One of the biggest criticisms leveled against Power Slap is that the competitors in the slap fighting league are subjecting themselves to undefended strikes to the head.

There’s no argument against that since the person absorbing the slap is standing motionless with their hands behind their back while the blow is delivered. If that person, comically called the “Defender” in the official Power Slap rules, so much as flinches to lessen the strike’s impact, they are hit with a foul, which could result in the “Striker” getting another chance to land their slap. That is if “the fouling Defender is not knocked down or out by that round’s strike.”

Despite the lack of defense involved in the combat sport, which the Nevada State Athletic Commission sanctions, at least one of the participants feels as if an undefended slap is not as bad as a punch to the head in a combat sports situation.

“I think it’s definitely overblown with the topics of CTE and the damage that we’re taking,” Ryan Phillips, a Power Slap League fighter, told the AP. “I think a lot of people still just don’t understand that it’s still a slap.”

Chris Nowinski, who has a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience and is the co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, finds fault with that thinking.

“It reminds me of 20 years ago when the NFL believed that no player had ever developed CTE because football is not boxing, and now 345 of the first 376 NFL players studied have been found to have CTE,” Nowinski told Bloody Elbow.

As for the thinking that an undefended slap is nothing to worry about when it comes to brain trauma, Nowinski said, “I doubt the brain can tell the difference between and undefended slap and an undefended punch to the side of the head. In fact, a gloved punch may be safer than a slap because the glove pad absorbs a small amount of the energy. First an energy wave passes from the hand through the skull and to the brain, potentially causing a cascade of cellular changes that result in the brain malfunctioning. Second, the head begins to rotate quickly, which then causes the brain to rotate, stretching and tearing the fragile projections of neurons called axons. Broken axons don’t reconnect, and the inflammation that follows is believed to be associated with the process that begins CTE.

“Considering how frequently these slaps are causing concussions, they are clearly causing extraordinary acceleration of brain and acute brain damage. If slap fighters participate regularly – if this becomes a real business and people participate multiple times per year for years - I would expect we’ll see CTE in this group, and we’ll likely learn about it sooner rather than later because some fighters will die young due to behaviors caused by their multiple traumatic brain injuries.”

I’d like to close with the question Nowinski posed in his reply to this site, “To put slap fighting in context – would anyone let a professional boxer give you three free right hooks a month for five years? Of course not, because we know what would happen. Why would we expect anything different from a professional slap?”

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