Some football figures have rushed to the defense of North Carolina Coach Larry Fedora after he questioned the link between football, head trauma and the degenerative brain illness chronic traumatic encephalopathy at ACC media days Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s been proven that the game of football causes CTE,” Fedora said. “We don’t really know that. Are there chances for concussions? Of course. There are collisions. But the game is safer than it’s ever been.”
His remarks dismayed some football players, fans and experts. The NFL conceded two years ago a connection between football and CTE. A growing medical consensus suggests a connection between repeated blows to the head and CTE, which has symptoms that include memory difficulty, mood changes, depression, impaired judgment and dementia.
USA Today columnist Dan Wolken demanded Fedora’s termination “if he can’t acknowledge dangers of CTE.”
Chris Nowinski, chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a former Harvard defensive tackle and a doctor of behavioral neuroscience, told The Washington Post that Fedora’s comments were “a dangerous place to be.”
ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum told Fedora on “Outside the Lines” to “go to the library and read” about CTE and questioned “how this great university can stand behind someone who made those comments.”
But Fedora has his backers, among them Fox NFL analyst Mark Schlereth and columnist Jason Whitlock, former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer and Yahoo Sports columnist Eric Adelson.
Schlereth, speaking on Fox’s “Speak for Yourself” program, called Fedora’s comments “salient” and cast doubt on CTE’s role in the deteriorating health of some current and former football players.
“Certainly I believe that repeated concussions or repeated head trauma will probably create a situation where you have some injury, some CTE,” Schlereth said. “But I also believe that your brain has enough elasticity, enough connectivity to overcome some of those things.”
“True science,” he said later in response to retired linebacker James Harrison mentioning a bevy of peer-reviewed articles that all point to football’s relationship with CTE, “but incomplete science. At least, my opinion.”
Whitlock later in the program said, “I think the CTE thing is exaggerated.”
They appeared to be referring to Fedora’s statement that any sport that involves head impact includes concussion risk.
“I’m not sure that anything has proven that football itself causes it,” Fedora told reporters later Wednesday. “Now we do know from what my understanding is that repeated blows to the head do cause it, so every sport that you have, football included, could be a problem with that, right? As long as you’ve got any kind of contact, you could have that.”
Dilfer tweeted Adelson’s Yahoo column — “Association [of football and long term degenerative illness] is not causation,” he noted before sharing the link — in which Adelson wrote Fedora was exercising “caution” by not sounding a stronger alarm on the dangers of CTE and waiting for more scientific evidence.
Fedora, though, said he doesn’t always read the newest studies and is not apt to believe all of them.
“Depends on the study,” he said. “I believe some of the studies, and there’s some of them that I don’t. That’s why you do studies, I think.”
A Stanford study measured the average football hit, such as tackling a ball carrier or blocking at the line of scrimmage, is roughly equivalent in terms of force on the body to driving a car into a brick wall at 30 mph. And players can take as many as 60-plus hits in a game, researchers found.
A study released close to a year ago by Boston University’s School of Medicine and VA Boston Healthcare System found CTE in 87 percent of football players’ brains studied postmortem, including 99 percent of NFL players and 91 percent of college players.
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