Larry Fedora's words fly in the face of UNC research on CTE and football

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, July 19, 2018

Seconds after the words left the mouth of UNC's head football coach, it was national news.

Head trauma and football has been the top line concern facing the sport in recent years. It's something the ITeam has been digging into as well -- talking to parents and reporting on the research from doctors, many at UNC, which flies in the face of what Larry Fedora said.

"I believe the game is under attack right now... and if we're not careful, we're gonna lose what the game is all about," Fedora said at the start of his comments at a session with news reporters at ACC Kickoff Day in Charlotte.

But when ABC11's Mark Armstrong pressed Fedora to clarify what he meant, the coach stepped out on a limb that may cost him the credibility he needs to survive on the sidelines.

Fedora went on to throw cold water on years of scientific evidence linking hits to the head on the football field to traumatic brain injury.

"I can take the data and I can make it look one way. You can take the data and make it look another way and whoever is presenting it is the one who gets the say so," he said.

Reaction was instant. USA Today columnist, Dan Wolken writing: "No need to dance around this. If Fedora actually believes what he said, he's too dumb to coach college football and should be fired immediately."

The coach's comments contradict mountains of research done right there at the university where he is employed.

UNC professor Kevin Guskiewicz is one of leading researchers on football and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease found in many NFL players.

And when Dr. Lewis Margolies is not protesting outside UNC football games -- he's a pediatrician and UNC professor -- who thinks high schoolers shouldn't be playing the game.

"We're not clear about the risks here," Margolies told the ITeam in 2016. "The risks could be much greater than what we currently think they are."

The ITeam interviewed Bob Gfeller, who launched a center at UNC to study sports-related brain injury -- pushing to make the game safer.

The center is named for Gfeller's son, Matt, a high school linebacker, who died after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

"What happened to Matt is his brain moved so much in his skull that it sheared and bled," Gfeller described.

Fedora insisted Wednesday that football is safer than it's ever been because of the safety strides made in recent years. It's what he said after that's causing concern about his commitment to continue those strides: "I fear the game will get pushed so far to one extreme that you won't recognize the game 10 years from now."

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