CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said Wednesday he doesn't believe it's been proven that football causes the degenerative brain disease CTE and offered a passionate defense of a sport he believes is "under attack."
Fedora, during interviews at Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media days, described the sport as an integral part of American culture and said it is "safer right now than it's ever been," though he acknowledged the risk of concussions in a sport featuring constant collisions.
It wasn't clear who Fedora was referring to in saying the game was under attack, with the seventh-year Tar Heels coach noting, for example, "it's more about people twisting data" to argue football is unsafe. He also said players should be educated on the risks of the game.
"I don't think that the game of football, that it's been proven that the game of football causes CTE," Fedora said. "But that's been put out there. We don't really know yet.
"Are there the chances for concussions in the game of football? Yeah, we all have common sense, right? Yeah, there are. When you have two people running into each other or multiple people running into each other, there is a chance of a concussion. But again, I'm going to say, the game is safer than it's ever been in the history of the game."
Known to cause violent moods, depression, dementia and other cognitive difficulties, CTE has been linked to the repeated hits to the head endured by football and hockey players, boxers and members of the military. The NFL's billion-dollar concussion settlement included payouts for a qualifying diagnosis of CTE.
North Carolina is home to a noted center researching sports-related brain injuries and Fedora's comments caused a stir at the ACC event, which opened two days of sessions with the league's seven Coastal Division teams. He returned nearly two hours later to speak with a handful of reporters.
"I'm not sure that anything is proven that football itself causes it," he said. "Now we do know from what my understanding is that repeated blows to the head cause it. So I'm assuming that 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. That does not diminish the fact that the game is still safer than it's ever been in the history of the game because we continue to tweak the game to try to make it safer for our players."
Fedora also clarified his earlier comments to say the game wasn't under attack from rule tweaks to improve or promote safety.
"No, no, that's not what I meant," Fedora said. "How's the game under attack? To me, it's more about people twisting the data and the information out there to use for whatever their agenda is. Tweaking the game doesn't mean that the game is under attack. Any time you're changing the game for the betterment for the health and safety of the players, you're doing a great thing."
Asked if he believes the findings of some research studies on the topic, Fedora responded: "Depends on the study. I believe some of the studies and there's some of them that I don't. But that's why you do studies, I think."
Earlier in the afternoon, Fedora had touted the life lessons learned from the game have "a major impact on who we are as a country," even connecting that to the strength of the U.S. military.
"Oh yes, I fear that the game will get pushed so far to one extreme that you won't recognize the game 10 years from now," Fedora said. "That's what I worry about. And I do believe if it gets to that point, that our country goes down, too."
The ACC opened the day with state-of-the-league comments from Commissioner John Swofford, including his expectation of a national standardized policy for reporting injuries and ineligible players following a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down a federal law barring gambling on college sports.
The two-day session concludes Thursday with the Atlantic Division teams.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.