"The punch-out game is more funny to me than harmful," says J.R. "I've been punched by my sister, Jessie, my sister, Melissa, my grandmother. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it."
J.R. says that he exercises caution when allowing himself to get socked. "I am taking the punches in the cheeks, in the forehead, really anywhere, just not in the temple or the back of the head. I've been stunned, but I've never been knocked out," he boasts. "I'm not worried about suffering brain damage from getting hit."
"I thought it was hilarious. It was funny," says Tammy, J.R.'s mother, about the punch-out game. "I taped three of these videos. The head punches are just part of the training. If this is what he wants to do, I will support him. I think the people who are making a fuss over it, they're making it more than what it actually is. I do understand the concern, but it's not like what some of these other kids are doing."
[AD]"People who J.R. had punch him either had the training or he told them, 'Don't hit me here, because this is a bad place.' J.R. follows the rules," says his father, Howard. "I don't know the rules. I wasn't a part of his training. I don't mind him taking the head punches. As part of an Ultimate Fighter, you get punched all the time in the head, so J.R. getting punched in the head helps him build resistance."
Tammy laughs when the videotape ends. "I think it's funny," she tells Dr. Phil. "The couple of times that I first started videotaping him, I didn't actually realize how hard he was getting hit."
Tammy says she supports her son's passion to train for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). "He wants to build that resistance. He wants to be able to take these hits," she says. "Like with his grandmother doing it. That was funny. Grandmom barely tapped him."
"I get that. I agree Grandmom doesn't pack a lot of wallop," Dr. Phil jokes. "Am I missing something here? Am I getting Punk'd? Are y'all serious?"
"Yeah," J.R. says.
[AD]"I've been in sports all my life. I played football in grade school, junior high school, high school, college. Both of our boys have training in martial arts. Our oldest has two black belts. I've been around this all of my life," Dr. Phil tells Tammy. "You can't build up a resistance to brain damage. You don't get tougher because somebody is hitting you in the head."
J.R. explains why he enjoys the punch-out game. "I believe that it can help me from feeling [the blows] as much," he tells Dr. Phil.
"I suppose that's true. You could get so much brain damage, your ability to process pain would be diminished," Dr. Phil quips.
Dr. Phil lists the rules that J.R. follows to ensure his safety while he trains: No hits to the back of the head. No hits to the groin or spine. No dropping on the head. No punching in the temple. He must wear a mouth guard when receiving hits to the jaw.
"In two of the tapes that we saw, you weren't wearing a mouth guard, right?" Dr. Phil observes.
"Right," J.R. says.
Dr. Phil wants the teen to understand the gravity of this trend. He introduces Talon, a young man who engaged in the punch-out game with tragic consequences. "How did this happen?" he asks Talon.
"I believe it was December 6. I went to a party in Bend, Oregon. I got really drunk, and this kid had asked me if I wanted to play hit-for-hit. I said, 'Yeah, but what are we going to play for?' He was like, 'A pair of shoes,'" Talon recounts. "After I took in probably five or six gravity bongs, with more than four beers every time, he hit me. I went back and hit my head on the concrete. My brain went forward and hit the front of my skull. My head started gushing blood."
[AD]Talon touches a bald spot on the back of his head. "I went to the emergency room, and I was in a coma for 10 days, a drug-induced coma for 10 days. I was in the hospital for 22 days total."
"You had actually been playing this game for four years before this night," Dr. Phil notes.
"What have they done to your head?" Dr. Phil asks. "I noticed the contour of your scalp indicates that there's been a removal of bone, correct?"
"Yeah," Talon says. "From my right-side brain to my left-side brain, they took out the skull that's all the way forward."
Gesturing to his own pate, Dr. Phil says, "So this area here is unprotected?"
"Yeah. It's just skin and then my brain."
"There's blood seepage and stuff on the top now," Dr. Phil says, indicating Talon's hair, which is matted in places. "You're very vulnerable, at this point."
[AD]Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Travis Stork, host of the hit television series The Doctors and an E.R. physician who has witnessed many head traumas. "How dangerous is this?" Dr. Phil asks.
Dr. Stork directs his response to J.R. "You still have a developing brain. Each and every time you get hit in the head, you are potentially suffering a concussion. When you get hit in the head three days later, you are increasing your chance for long-term memory loss, your ability to think," he says. "You may not have the outcome that Talon had, but it doesn't mean that you're not going to potentially suffer in college and 10, 20 years down the road. That's my biggest issue with kids doing this."
Dr. Phil turns to Kim, Talon's mom. "What do you think about all of this?" he asks.
"I just think it's absolutely crazy. I can't even imagine that 1) our kids would put themselves in that position, and 2) that we have parents who allow it. My son took one blow to the face. It broke his nose. That's where it all started. Talon then fell backwards, because he passed out. He was awake when the paramedics got there," she recalls, tears streaming down her face. "Had they not done that CAT scan, my son wouldn't be alive."
"If that swelling isn't seen on a CAT scan, that swelling can occur while you're at home in bed, sound asleep, and then you're dead," Travis adds somberly.
[AD]"This is dangerous," Dr. Phil tells J.R. "As Travis said, your brain is still developing, so your ability to see the consequences of your actions is one of the last parts of your brain that will develop, and it's still growing until you're 25 years old, in many cases."
Dr. Phil advises J.R. to participate in a controlled program with professionals that utilizes mats, proper equipment and headgear instead of continuing the punch-out game. "Parents, if this is going on, stop it!" he warns.