Others don’t have the gall to speak so freely, and they don’t have an easy-to-mock name that doubles as a synonym for hat. But while you’re demanding that this coach put on his thinking Fedora next time, remember that there are plenty of influential football figures who also think the game is under attack because of increased safety measures. Like Fedora, they also attempt to minimize the dangers of the degenerative brain disease CTE and possess an overinflated sense of football’s importance in American society.
“Our game is under attack,” Fedora said Wednesday during ACC media days, amid a rant in which he questioned studies about football’s role in causing CTE. “I fear that the game will get pushed so far to one extreme you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now. That’s what I worry about, and I do believe if it gets to that point that our country goes down, too.”
“There will be decline of our country, there’s no doubt,” Fedora said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I think because the lessons you learn in the game of football relate to everything that’s going to happen in the rest of your life, and if we stop learning those lessons, we’re going to struggle. And I think, in some ways, we’re struggling more now than we ever have. Are we ever going to be a perfect country? No, not by any means. But I do think the game of football has had a major impact on who we are as a country.”
I still enjoy football, even though I spend a little time every day scrutinizing its value and wondering about its demise. But Fedora’s argument is full of panic and thoroughly unconvincing. If football disappeared tomorrow, it would be missed for a while, but then we would find something else in the toy bin. Many sports and activities teach us about teamwork, discipline, strategy, loyalty, commitment and all those good things that football offers. No game ever will be irreplaceable. It is a diversion, not a religion.
Football often casts its problems as the result of society becoming soft and misguided. The belief lacks nuance and appropriate concern. Everything about the football/CTE issue lacks patience and methodical evaluation. It would have been fine, though still unpopular, if Fedora had said that we’re still in a period of evolving science about CTE and how exactly football — or any contact sport — can mitigate the risks. It would have been fine if Fedora had said he’s torn between teaching the game the way he learned it and living in a new world that is more aware about all the risks involved with playing football.
There’s nothing wrong with being confused or even a little skeptical about how to react to all the information as science tries to make more exact conclusions. But it’s unproductive for Fedora to turn into the oversimplified meathead to combat the equally reactionary other side.
“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.”
Fedora probably didn’t articulate his point well, given that he was talking off the cuff at a media event in which he entertained questions about a variety of topics. But after realizing the firestorm he created, he returned to clarify his remarks to a smaller group of reporters and basically doubled down on what he said earlier.
It’s a false narrative to say flatly that playing football will damage your brain. It depends on many factors, including the player and how he competes and how much contact to the head he absorbs and how the medical staff treats him. But it’s naive to ignore compelling research, including the Boston University 2017 report that studied the brains of 111 deceased former NFL players and found that 110 of them had evidence of CTE.
That study didn’t answer every question, obviously. We still have no idea how common CTE is, in general. But it doesn’t mean that all assumptions about a game in which players bang heads frequently can be discarded. Common sense demands that the issue be treated seriously. If Fedora wants to be a CTE truther, he risks looking like an even bigger idiot years from now, when the science becomes definitive.
You know you have wandered too far out on the ledge when Lane Kiffin can use your remarks to turn into the voice of reason. Kiffin, Mr. Foot-in-Mouth, disagreed with Fedora on Thursday during Conference USA media days.
“What’s the most important thing?” asked Kiffin, the Florida Atlantic coach. “Long-term health? Or how the game looks?”
Fedora is just an easy target, however. Many coaches, players and football staffers remain flippant about the game’s dangers. Most know better than to try to turn CTE into fake news, but there are plenty of veiled comments. They lament how soft the game has become. They complain about the lack of hitting in practice and the revised rules aimed to prevent helmet-to-helmet contact. They make fun of players who nurse injuries for too long. They mistake recklessness for toughness. Even for teams with greater sensitivity, there’s no avoiding a football culture that intimates the game demands a willing suspension of disbelief about the long-term consequences.
It’s just enough to make you concerned about what will die slower: the old-school mentality or more players who dedicate themselves blindly to the sport.
Games evolve and survive. Baseball looks vastly different from era to era. The NBA isn’t a very physical or defensive-minded league right now, but it is thriving. Football has become a game of space and speed instead of brute strength, and guess what? The sport is still America’s passion despite its efforts to ruin itself.
Football isn’t under attack. What football does to its participants is under scrutiny. The key to survival shouldn’t involve ignorance and asinine threats about its decline tearing at the fabric of the nation. The key to sustainability is making sure participants can survive and live long.
Fedora and all the masked Fedoras out there can adapt to a modified game. Change won’t ruin football, but there is one thing that could kill it: if people start considering it barbaric. It’s time to start valuing human beings rather than manipulating them.