Larry Fe­dora doesn’t lead with his head

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE OB­SERVER EDI­TO­RIAL BOARD

If you’ve re­cently played or coached foot­ball - or even watched it on TV - you’re prob­a­bly well-versed in the right way to tackle some­one. Eyes up, head to the side, ex­plode with the hips and hit the ball car­rier with your shoul­der, coaches say. Most im­por­tantly - never, ever lead with your head.

We rec­om­mend the op­po­site for foot­ball news con­fer­ences.

As ev­i­dence, we present Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina foot­ball coach Larry Fe­dora, who went vi­ral this week af­ter his heart got in the way of his brain while talk­ing with re­porters at the ACC Kick­off event in Char­lotte. Two threads of com­ments stand out:

First, Fe­dora said he thinks the game is un­der at­tack, which he be­lieves could do great dam­age to our coun­try. That’s right. Fe­dora said he had a con­ver­sa­tion a few years back with a four-star gen­eral who ex­plained that Amer­ica is great be­cause “we’re the only foot­ball-play­ing na­tion in the world” and that foot­ball’s lessons make us who we are. If foot­ball keeps chang­ing, Fe­dora said, “our coun­try goes down, too.”

Sec­ond, Fe­dora ques­tioned foot­ball’s con­nec­tion to Chronic Trau­matic En­cephalopa­thy (CTE), a de­gen­er­a­tive brain disease found in peo­ple with a history of head in­juries. Re­search has shown a strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween CTE and foot­ball head in­juries, but Fe­dora seemed less than cer­tain of the link. “I’m not sure if any­thing is proven that foot­ball it­self causes it,” said Fe­dora, who also hitched up his old-coach pants and com­plained about how all this worry about head in­juries might make the game “less tough” and “less phys­i­cal.”

We’re less con­cerned what Fe­dora be­lieves about foot­ball and Amer­ica’s great­ness. A lot of us, from time to time, think that what we do is more con­se­quen­tial than it ac­tu­ally is. More trou­bling is Fe­dora down­play­ing the link be­tween foot­ball and brain dam­age by ask­ing for proof and sug­gest­ing that peo­ple are us­ing foot­ball head in­jury data to fo­cus on the neg­a­tive.

The re­al­ity: CTE re­search, which is still in its in­fancy, has con­sis­tently demon­strated a link be­tween the sport and longterm brain dam­age. A good amount of head in­jury re­search has been done on Fe­dora’s own UNC cam­pus, at the The Matthew Gfeller Sport-Re­lated Trau­matic Brain In­jury Re­search Cen­ter. UNC’s Kevin Guskiewicz, a doc­tor who founded the Gfeller In­sti­tute, said Thurs­day he was sur­prised at Fe­dora’s re­marks.

Guskiewicz, how­ever, also praised Fe­dora for sup­port­ing the cen­ter’s re­search as UNC coach, even tak­ing the step of hav­ing his play­ers par­tic­i­pate in stud­ies - some­thing that would make other coaches blanch. Fe­dora also has been largely sup­port­ive of rules and equip­ment changes that have made foot­ball safer. That’s im­por­tant.

But his re­marks Wed­nes­day were a con­cern­ing mis­step. UNC should have him more fully and pub­licly ex­plain what he thinks about foot­ball and head in­juries, rather than trot­ting out ath­letic direc­tor Bubba Cun­ning­ham to ex­plain Thurs­day that Fe­dora didn’t re­ally mean what he said the day be­fore.

Our coun­try has a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with foot­ball. We’re con­cerned about the game’s dan­ger, but we’re also are guilty of min­i­miz­ing head in­jury is­sues just enough so that we can keep watch­ing guilt-free. The last per­son we want do­ing that, how­ever, is the coach who is ur­gently re­spon­si­ble for those play­ers. Fe­dora can and should do bet­ter.

Larry Fe­dora

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