University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora is under fire after he questioned the validity of studies on a degenerative brain illness that affects players.
Fedora also said that football is "under attack" while answering questions Wednesday during the Atlantic Coast Conference Media Days in Charlotte.
"I fear the game will be pushed so far to one extreme that you won't recognize the game 10 years from now. And I do believe that if it gets to that point, that our country goes down, too," he said.
Fedora said he's not convinced a link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and football has been proven, according to CNN affiliate WTVD.
"I can take the data and I can make it look one way, and you can take the data and make it look another way, and whoever is presenting it is the one that gets the say-so," he said.
CTE starts after repeated head trauma
CTE is a degenerative brain disease that often starts after repeated head trauma.
Fedora's comments especially raised eyebrows because the university's Kevin Guskiewicz is a leading researcher and nationally recognized expert on sport-related concussions.
In a separate interview later, Fedora tried to clarify himself.
"I'm not sure that anything is proven that football, itself, causes (CTE)," Fedora said, according to the affiliate.
"My understanding is repeated blows to the head cause it, so I'm assuming that every sport, football included, could be a problem with that if 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."
NFL has admitted there's a connection
Fedora also said he once asked a three-star general what makes the US military the best in the world. He said the general told him the answer was football.
"He said, 'Most of, all of our troops have grown up and played the game at some point in their life at some level and the lessons that they learned from that game is what makes us who we are,' " Fedora said, without naming the general.
In a study published last year, CTE was found in 99% of deceased NFL players' brains that were donated to scientific research.
The neurodegenerative brain disease can be found in people who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. The disease causes symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and sometimes suicidal behavior.
It can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy, and most cases, although not all, have been seen in either veterans or people who played contact sports, particularly American football.
Two years ago, the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time a connection between football and CTE.