It all started off innocently enough.
The game is safer than its ever been before, players understand the risks to their bodies and we are cognizant of that.
In the interview room at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, this was Larry Fedora’s response to questions about rule changes, namely the new “fair catch rule” on kickoffs.
With dynamic return man Anthony Ratliff-Williams just leaving the podium, Fedora continued:
With a guy like (Ratliff-Williams), you have to understand more about the kick— where you are on the field, catch it with forward momentum. 11 guys are running at you full speed, and you have to be at full speed back at them.
This sounds like a guy who, despite his exploits as an offensive-minded coach, has long had a heavy hand in UNC’s elite special teams play. The takeaway from the interviews in the main media room before breakout sessions was essentially, the rules have changed, but it’s not going to change the way we play.
Well, umm, let’s say Fedora doubled down on the taekery once breakout sessions started, and not in a good way:
Larry Fedora just spoke for a good 15 minutes about how football is at the very core of the American identity, in fact makes America the great nation it is. Fears it’s under attack and that America could suffer as a result. It was incredibly compelling convo.— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) July 18, 2018
Larry Fedora: “Our game is under attack ... I fear that the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won’t recognize it 10 years from now. And if it does, our country will go down, too.”— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) July 18, 2018
A lot of what Fedora said is going to be taken out of context. I believe his comments about America, based on the current climate surrounding our country as a whole, are going to be (or have already been) blown WAY out of proportion.
But taking the leap in logic from inherent risks on special teams, to Gob Bluth-ing the data on CTE studies as they relate to football, to (paraphrasing) the pussification and impending doom of America...yikes. That’s going to raise a lot of red flags.
And make no mistake— Fedora went ROGUE on the topic of CTE, and there is no way to make that sound any better:
This was a troubling aspect of same larger convo. Larry said he can take research studies and tweak numbers to look good and bad (paraphrasing). They are bad, period. https://t.co/pbstpPO2iK— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) July 18, 2018
More from Larry Fedora: He doesn’t think it’s been proven that the game of football causes CTE, but that has been put out there as fact and has turned a lot of people off.— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) July 18, 2018
And to do this coming from UNC, 1 of the first places to put sensors in helmets to monitor impacts & put players through testing for diagnosis. Goodness https://t.co/QWSO9kBCsQ— Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers) July 18, 2018
I’m not going to defend this— I defended his hiring of Tim Beckman, who was fired from Illinois under allegations of player abuse, as an unpaid analyst before the 2015 season. UNC’s administration saw to it that Beckman was removed before fall camp started.
But taking the stance that “research on CTE can be manipulated to make football look bad” is taking a page straight out the of #FOOTBALLGUY playbook that needs to be eliminated from the sport.
Fedora had a “back in my day” moment at ACC Kickoff, and it’s going to put Carolina squarely in the news cycle— and not in the good way. Before the breakout sessions, he talked about how research had led to the end of three-a-day practices, limited water breaks, and made the game safer than ever. He walked back his comments a little bit, stating that people shouldn’t be playing tackle football until middle school, but the PR hits and philosophical shots had long since been fired.
What had been (begrudging, if we’re being honest) praise of the virtues of modern health practices in football turned into a not-at-all-veiled criticism of modern player safety— and that’s highly problematic.
The political commentary can be, and will be, taken out of context and blown out of proportion. That may be unfair, but it reflects on today’s media climate.
The real issue is that a present-day football coach, paid to recruit and develop young athletes, does not buy the extensive research on the correlation of football to traumatic brain injuries.
Given that his comments on the CTE issue can in no way be taken out of context, one would be led to the conclusion (in the words of the coach, “you can’t prove it!”) that this fundamentally and mind-numbingly stupid take is the beginning of the end of the Larry Fedora era.