Breaking down the ‘knockout game’

ABOVE: Brutal “knockout” game causes deaths in US. Online report questions whether it’s being played here too. Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO – The ‘knockout game’, which involves randomly punching unsuspecting people in the head with the sole purpose of knocking them unconscious, has caught the attention of law enforcement in the northeastern United States.

Authorities say that though they’ve noticed a spike in similar attacks recently, the game has been around for years. They also say teenage boys are usually the perpetrators.

One of the earliest fatal accounts occurred in St. Louis in April 2011, when a  72-year-old man died after being punched in the head.

According to CBS, there have been seven recent attacks in New York, though the ‘game’ appears to have spread.

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Video: The ‘knockout game’

It has also proven to be fatal; four deaths have been attributed to ‘knockout’ attacks in Syracuse, St. Louis, Chicago, and most recently Hoboken, N.J.

Perhaps more shocking than the violence itself is the inherent cruelty and callousness of the ‘game’; the perpetrators have even recorded and shared videos online.

This begs the question – why would people do this?

“It’s hard to say why anybody would do something like that, ” said Kim Varma, associate professor Chair of the Department of Criminology at Ryerson University.

“And they may be violent and have violence in their past or their background. But there may also be kids that don’t understand the consequences and they’re just doing this to kind of show off.”

Varma said she’s surprised by the openness of teens bragging about indiscriminate assault, but acknowledged that we’re now in a world where people vie for attention online.

“So kids may be thinking, ‘This is something I want to do and have friends know about it.'”

Varma said that kids involved in knockout probably don’t understand the consequences of their actions, acting out of boredom and thinking that it’s just a ‘game’.

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“It’s probably one of the worst types of intentional trauma that there could be,” said Dr. Charles Tator.

Security camera footage in locations in the northeastern U.S., including Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Jersey City, NJ, has captured people punching pedestrians on the street causing the victims to fall to the ground, sometimes unconscious.

Tator, a brain surgeon at Toronto Western hospital, said being knocked unconscious is ‘at least’ evidence of a concussion, but that other things can lead to unconsciousness, such as blood clots.

In September, a 46-year-old man from Hoboken, N.J. died after someone punched him and he fell towards an iron fence, breaking his neck.

“If it produces bleeding or tearing of the brain, then it could even produce death, so to call this a ‘game’ really doesn’t make any sense.”

The circumstances Dr. Tator describes sound consistent with at least one of two deaths attributed to ‘knockout’ this year.

Being blindsided also poses significantly more risk to victims than a strike to the head that the victim sees coming. “If you suspect, you ready youself, and that ‘readying’ instinct causes the neck muscles to contract so there’d be less ‘bobble’ of the head,” said Tator.

He said that the ‘bobble’ of the head produces the rotational acceleration that causes concussions. Being unprepared for an attack leaves the brain more prone to one or multiple concussions, depending on where the victim falls when hit.

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While both Varma and Dr. Tator agreed the existence of the ‘knockout game’ is something to be concerned about, Varma cautioned that acts like these are outliers.

Tator acknowledged what a lot of readers may be thinking: “I mean there’s got to be a better way to pass the time than to cause brain damage,” he says. “It’s just ridiculous.”

With files from Global News’ Mark Carcasole and The Associated Press

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