On Thursday, seemingly out the blue, PBS announced that ESPN had decided to abandon a joint project between ESPN and Frontline around concussion issues in the NFL. The project involved two websites: League of Denial and Concussion Watch and an upcoming documentary also called League of Denial.
Since PBS made the announcement, ESPN personnel have chimed in on their reasoning for abandoning the project. All of which don’t match up with what James Andrew Miller of the NY Times is reporting is the reason.
According to Miller, ESPN abandoned the project because of growing pressure they were receiving. And if Miller is correct, it’s definitely a huge black eye for the network.
Pressure from the National Football League led to ESPN’s decision on Thursday to pull out of an investigative project with “Frontline” regarding head injuries in the N.F.L., according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Last week, several high-ranking officials convened a lunch meeting at Patroon, near the league’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because they were prohibited by their superiors from discussing the matter publicly. It was a table for four: Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L.; Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network; ESPN’s president, John Skipper; and John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production.
At the combative meeting, the people said, league officials conveyed their displeasure with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe a narrative that has been captured in various news reports over the past decade: the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability.
The NFL is obviously playing this the way you think they would.
Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the N.F.L., said Friday morning that the lunch meeting was requested by ESPN several weeks ago. “At no time did we formally or informally ask them to divorce themselves from the project,” Aiello said. “We know the movie was happening and the book was happening, and we respond to them as best we can. We deny that we pressured them.”
No matter what happened here, the fact remains that ESPN decided to abandon one of the few true journalistic projects they had going at the company. Add in the fact that this decision pertains to one of their partners, a partner that they make a good amount of money from, and things really begin to smell fish.