With numerous former professional football players suing over head injuries and some high-profile deaths, the National Football League has been criticized as being slow to respond to the issue of player concussions. Now, the NY Times is reporting that the NFL has pressured ESPN to end its participation in a documentary about the issue.
According to the Times, "'Frontline, the PBS public affairs series, and ESPN had been working for 15 months on a two-part documentary, to be televised in October. But ESPN’s role came under intense pressure by the league, the two people said, after a trailer for the documentary was released Aug. 6, the day that the project was discussed at a Television Critics Association event in Beverly Hills, Calif... ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, pays the N.F.L. more than $1 billion a year to broadcast 'Monday Night Football,' a ratings juggernaut and cherished source of revenue for Disney."
Watch "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.
At the TCA earlier this month, the filmmakers said the NFL wasn't involved with the film at all; Deadline reported then, "Michael Kirk said that NFL has been as resistant to revealing information as other major institutions have been to Frontline investigations, including the CIA. 'They obviously don’t want to talk about it and it’s too bad, because it’s a huge, huge problem,' Kirk said. Said senior ESPN writer Steve Fainaru: 'They did not cooperate. They [the NFL] are being sued by one third of the players dealing with this issue.'"
Cut to a "combative" meeting
I think one of the interesting things about ESPN is it’s sort of a bifurcated company. You do have the business partners on one side, but you also have the editorial production side. And our journalism has been very strong on this issue and so strong that we partner with FRONTLINE. FRONTLINE is about as it’s the gold standard, I’ve said before, of long form investigative documentaries. ESPN is the gold standard for sports journalism from covering the games to investigative journalism. Nobody does it as comprehensively as we do it.
So we made a conscious decision when we were presented with this opportunity to literally get in bed with FRONTLINE. We’ve had other nonprofits, universities that have asked us to partner with them. We’ve never done a partnership. And from the FRONTLINE standpoint, I think this is only the second time domestically that they’ve done a partnership with a broadcast partner. So we respect FRONTLINE greatly. They respect us. And the NFL is going to have to understand that.
last week between ESPN and NFL. The NY Times reports, "Chris LaPlaca, an ESPN spokesman, said Thursday that ESPN’s decision was not based on any concerns about hurting its contractual relationship with the N.F.L. Rather, the network said in a statement, it was ending its official association with 'Frontline' because it did not have editorial control of what appeared on the public television public affairs series. But Raney Aronson-Rath, the deputy executive producer of 'Frontline,' said that ESPN executives had for more than a year understood the ground rules of the collaboration: 'Frontline' would keep editorial control of what it televised or put on its Web sites, and ESPN would have control of everything it televised or posted on the Web."
Earlier this year, it was revealed that PBS canceled the airing of the documentary, Citizen Koch, which is critical of the Obama-hating billionaire David Koch. One of Citizen Koch's filmmakers said he would work with PBS again, "They're essential. There is no broader audience on television than the free TV audience. PBS exists specifically to encourage these kinds of difficult conversations about very important issues, and to have a place for a whole variety of viewpoints to be expressed in artistic ways and in political ways, and in solidly reported documentaries, as ours is."