WEST POINT, N.Y. — A bell clanged and two cadets in boxing gloves surged from their corners in a gym at the United States Military Academy last week, throwing jabs and uppercuts while other cadets yelled, “Keep working him!” and, “Use the hook!”
For more than a century, boxing for male freshmen here has been a rite of passage and an academic requirement — one they share with male cadets at the Air Force Academy and midshipmen of both sexes at the Naval Academy. Officials say there is no better way to teach the grit needed for combat.
“We want to expose them to fear and stress and teach them a confidence to respond,” Lt. Col. Nicholas Gist, the director of physical education at West Point, said as he watched the cadets fight. “We’d rather teach that at the academy than in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
But data obtained by The New York Times shows that the lesson comes at considerable cost. Boxing accounts for nearly one out of every five concussions at West Point, and one out of four at the Air Force Academy. So far this school year, boxing has caused a quarter of all concussions at the Naval Academy — more than twice as many as football.