BETHESDA, MD—Challenging conventional wisdom about the activity’s hazards, a groundbreaking new study by the National Institutes of Health published Thursday has determined there are significant dangers even in casual bullfighting.
The health agency’s latest findings indicate that bullfighting recreationally, often considered relatively harmless in comparison to frequent or habitual bullfighting, carries health risks far more severe and long lasting than had been previously understood.
“There’s a general perception out there that bullfighting in moderation is relatively safe, but our data paint a very different picture,” said lead author Susan Ellis, noting that the study, which assessed the health of more than 200 bullfighters, provided clear evidence that engaging in even just an occasional bullfight considerably raised the risk of adverse medical outcomes. “Whether you fight several bulls over the course of an evening or just one, the fact is, every single time you put that red cape in your hand and face down a 1,200-pound bull, you are endangering your health.”
“To avoid possible complications, your safest bet is to stay away from bulls altogether,” she added.
The study looked at both moderate bullfighting, defined as no more than 14 bullfights per week, and heavy bullfighting, defined as fighting five or more bulls on a single occasion at least five times per month. Researchers said that while the first category includes individuals who might bullfight socially or after a stressful day at work, the second consists of those who might keep a matador’s suit hidden in their home or slip out of the house to fight a bull behind the garage after their family has gone to bed for the night.
“Bullfighting with a few friends at a party may seem like no big deal, but the consequences can be quite severe.”
While they noted that daily bullfighters face the greatest risk, researchers said that even people who bullfight as little as once a week are several times more likely than their non-bullfighting peers to develop health problems such as contusions, gashes, skull fractures, and facial disfigurement.
Furthermore, the study suggests the detrimental effects of casual bullfighting can become even more pronounced over time, with MRI scans showing that areas of the brain controlling movement and speech may be affected by repeated exposure to the activity.
“Bullfighting with a few friends at a party may seem like no big deal, but the consequences can be quite severe,” said Diana Nussbaum, a Sibley Memorial Hospital administrator who has witnessed the ravages of casual bullfighting firsthand. “We had a guy in here the other day who decided he was going to perform a couple of tandas with his banderilleros in a parking lot, and the next thing you know, he’s in the ER with a pierced lung. And that sort of thing is all too common.”
According to top medical experts, it is especially important for young people to avoid the temptation to experiment with bullfighting. Doctors claim that teenagers often believe they’re invincible and therefore give less thought to the consequences of their actions, which makes them more likely to engage in risky bullfighting behaviors, such as the horse-mounted rejoneo or Portuguese-style bullfighting.
At the same time, because their brains are still developing, they are reportedly more susceptible to the cognitive impairments that can result from horn- or hoof-related head injuries.
“I tried it one time and felt terrible afterward,” said Greg Mathison, a high school student from Lewiston, ME, when asked about his bullfighting habits. “A lot of people at my school do it. They come to class and you can tell what they’ve been up to. Some of them get pretty messed up.”
“I’m just glad I don’t need to bullfight to have a good time,” he added.