North Carolina coach Larry Fedora drew heat for doubting a link between football and CTE at Wednesday's ACC Kickoff event, saying he believed there were people using the data in hopes of destroying the game.
Fedora was asked about changes to the kickoff rule in college football, and he offered an extended oratory disputing the relationship between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy and suggested that softening the game could be part of a larger concern.
"Our game is under attack," Fedora told reporters. "I fear the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won't recognize it in 10 years. And if it does, our country will go down, too."
Fedora said he had talked to military personnel who had suggested the success of the United States military was due, in part, to the number of football players who went on to join the armed forces.
After questioning the evidence tying CTE and football, Fedora later backtracked slightly by saying football simply was not alone in dealing with head injuries, and he argued that the game is currently safer than ever before.
"I'm not sure that anything is proven that football, itself, causes [CTE]," Fedora said. "My understanding is that repeated blows to the head cause it, so I'm assuming that every sport we have, football included, could be a problem with that as long as you've got any kind of contact. That doesn't diminish the fact that the game is still safer than it's ever been because we continue to tweak the game to try to make it safer for our players."
Fedora said people -- he declined to say specifically who -- routinely used data on CTE to suggest the risk of playing football was too high. In turn, he said, participation rates in youth football have declined nationally, putting the game at risk.
"If you're involved in the game of football, you have to worry about that," Fedora said.
Pressed on whether he agreed that there was a correlation between football participation and CTE, Fedora said he believed some studies and not others. Numerous organizations, including the NFL, have acknowledged a connection between concussions suffered while playing football and the development of CTE, which can result in brain abnormalities and depression. Recently, the family of former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski said his suicide was likely the result of CTE.
Fedora said he was not familiar with the NFL's evaluation of a link between football and CTE, but said players should understand the risks and make their own decisions.
"Are there still injuries? Yeah. It's a violent sport," Fedora said. "You've got big, fast, strong guys running into each other. Something is going to give. But there are risks involved in the game, and everybody that plays the game understands those risks. It's not like they're going into it not knowing that something could happen. And so they have to -- personally have to weigh those risks versus the rewards."
Injuries were at the forefront of Fedora's time at ACC Kickoff. Last year, his Tar Heels suffered through one of the most prolific runs of injured players in recent memory, with 37 different players missing game time due to injury and more than 20 suffering season-ending injuries.
Fedora said he spent the offseason reshaping UNC's strength and conditioning program as a result, noting that it was imperative for him to show his players that the coaching staff was taking their health seriously.
"It's the same way that, if we can't run the football, Coach better be addressing what we're going to do to change," Fedora said. "If not, I've got my head stuck in the sand, and they're going to start wondering about me. I better have the answer. So that's part of it, and that's reacting to what had happened and making sure guys know that I'm going to meet their needs."