UNC’s Fedora denies football link to CTE, says ‘attack’ on game will hurt America

UNC’s Larry Fedora talks about CTE

UNC coach Larry Fedora talks about football safety and CTE while meeting with the media during the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte in July.
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UNC coach Larry Fedora talks about football safety and CTE while meeting with the media during the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte in July.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said he feels the changes being made to make football safer have been good for the sport in many ways. Coaches are teaching players to tackle differently, from the youth level all the way up to the NFL, and rules are being put in place to prevent head-on collisions.

But Fedora also said at the ACC Kickoff on Wednesday that he thinks the game is under attack, and he fears that one day, football will be “less tough” and “less physical’ and that this could damage the country.

“I feel that the game will be pushed so far to one extreme that you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now,” Fedora said. “And I do believe that if it gets to that point, then our country goes down too.”

When asked who he blames for the game being under attack, Fedora said “a groundswell of data that is tweaked one way or the other.”

“Because I can take the data and I can make it one way, you can take the data and make it look another way,” he said. “And whoever is presenting it is the one that gets the say-so.

“So are there some things that are negative about the game? There’s no doubt about that. But I can tell you just in my lifetime from when I played the game early on to where we are today, there’s a huge difference in the way the game is played and the way athletes are taken care of.”

Fedora’s response came after he was asked earlier how teaching football has changed in recent years, amid a new NCAA rule that would allow a receiving team on kickoffs to call a “fair catch” if the ball is caught within the 25-yard line. Previously, a player could only call a ”fair catch” if the ball was kicked in the endzone. The rule is an attempt to encourage kick returners to make the call more often, in hopes that it will prevent collisions that can cause concussions.

“There are risks involved in the game, and everybody that plays the game understands those risks,” Fedora said. “It’s not like they’re going into it not knowing that something could happen.”

His comments also come at time when an increasing number of doctors, researchers and former football players have been vocal about head injuries in football and the long-term effects of concussions. It has become more common in recent years to see a college or young NFL player retire early from the game as research has shown the correlation between football head injuries and brain damage.

In January, UNC offensive lineman Tommy Hatton announced he was “medically retiring” from football because of a concussion that kept him out of the 2017 football season. Hatton wrote that the concussion came from a routine hit in a practice.

Later in the afternoon Fedora held an awkward impromptu press conference in the hallway of the Westin Hotel in Uptown Charlotte, where the ACC Kickoff was being held, to address his previous comments.

He doubled down, saying he wasn’t sure that anything was proven to show that football causes Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease linked to head trauma.

“Now we do know, from my understanding that repeated blows to the head causes it,” Fedora said. “So I’m assuming, every sport that you have, football included, could be a problem with that. As long as you’ve got any kind of contact, you can have that. That does not diminish the fact that the game is still safer than it has ever been in the history of the game.”

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora talks about the safety of football during a media availability in the 2018 ACC football kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Fedora’s opinion of how drastically changing football could negatively affect the country stems from a conversation he said he had a few years ago with a four-star general. Fedora said he asked the general what makes America’s military the greatest in the world.

“He was like, that’s easy. ‘We’re the only football-playing nation in the world,’” Fedora recalled. “He said most of all of our troops have grown up and played the game at some point in their life, at some level. And the lessons that they learned in that game makes us who we are.”

Fedora said among the lessons he hopes his players learn from his program is how to be great men, fathers and husbands.

“That’s part of what has me in this game,” Fedora said. “Is the influence we have on young me and how we impact their lives.”

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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