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The immediate thought is to suggest the word “head” should be dropped from the title of University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora. Or to tell him to get his head back into the game.
But what Fedora said to the assembled journalists during Atlantic Coast Conference media day on Wednesday, although perhaps fodder for smart-alecks, isn’t funny in the least.
If you had your head in the sand, here’s Fedora on the degenerative chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has been found in the brains of many dead former football players:
“I don’t think that the game of football, that it’s been proven that the game of football causes CTE. But that’s been put out there. We don’t really know yet.”
What Fedora apparently doesn’t accept is that CTE has been proven to cause violent mood swings and depression and to be a byproduct of the continual pounding on the head that is common in football. CTE has been the subject of debates and academic studies. A billion-dollar court settlement by the NFL finally required the league to accept that CTE was a problem for its current and former players, which led to equipment modifications and very firm changes for the rules of contact.
Unless he wants to say he was channeling President Trump and didn’t mean to say “don’t,” Fedora came off as clueless.
Several minutes later and off the podium, he advanced that performance to “ignorant”: “If you say that’s what they’re saying, I don’t know that. I haven’t read that.”
For Fedora, a man who has coached in Chapel Hill for seven seasons, not to have read about CTE, which has been researched by scientists across his own campus, is dumbfounding. Congress had a hearing. Medical journals published articles.
Perhaps Fedora at least might have seen the movie “Concussion,” which debuted in 2015 and starred Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the university neuropathologist who discovered CTE.
Concussion, after all, is the operative word here. In-game concussions have proven the precursor to CTE. Protections have been enacted, which is the biggest issue, because Fedora is responsible for protecting young men, even if they are almost fully grown. He is responsible for listening to doctors and trainers and determining when a player might return to the field after “getting his bell rung.”
Fedora, in his argument, said football might be safer than ever. He mentioned that kids start to play tackle football at an older age.
That might be correct, but if safety has improved that’s largely because of research about CTE led to better helmets, new tackling rules and stricter protocols for head injuries at all levels.
Fedora likes to invoke comparisons of his sport to war. He did so in his remarks Wednesday, when he said the focus on head injuries is ruining football, which in turn will ruin our country. Surely he can’t be serious.
But this is serious. These public gaffes by Fedora, in the days after it was learned that some of his players have put his school in hot water with the NCAA for allegedly selling equipment, may in fact suggest a head-turning protocol for UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.
Perhaps she should consider whether a man in such denial about a dangerous development in his sport should be responsible for the common safety of athletes.
Maybe she should remove “coach” from his title as well.