*There is currently a hot mess surrounding PBS’s forthcoming Frontline special about the pervasiveness of NFL concussions and the league’s lack of attention to the issue.
First, the NFL refused to cooperate with Frontline. (In other words, “What concussion crisis coverup?”) Then, ESPN, which had been a partner in the production, announced Friday (Aug 23) that it was pulling out of the project. (ESPN cited a “branding” issue as its excuse. But anonymous sources told The New York Times that ESPN, which reportedly pays the NFL upwards of $1 billion a year for “Monday Night Football” rights, bowed to pressure from the NFL to withdraw its investigative assistance.)
The latest drama came today, as ESPN President John Skipper claimed the below promo trailer for Frontline’s film, titled “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” was the “catalyst” for ESPN‘s decision to pull out. [Scroll down to watch.]
According to Deadline.com, Skipper complained that the video was “sensational” and made him “quite unhappy.” He didn’t like the tagline, “Get ready to change the way you see the game,” or the trailer’s final quote from a neuropathologist on the extent of brain injuries in the NFL, “I’m really wondering if every single football player doesn’t have this.”
At a panel for the film held earlier this month in Beverly Hills, Frontline deputy executive producer Raney Aronson told journalists that ESPN’s participation was “central to the success” of the project. ESPN senior coordinating producer Dwayne Bray, also on the panel, insisted that ESPN did not fear irking the NFL by assisting Frontline. He said ESPN has been reporting on NFL concussions since a 1994 interview with Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who appears in the film.
“We don’t see this as ESPN going up against the NFL,” said Bray. “People are allowed their opinion. We just see this as reporting the story. Again, we’ve been reporting the story for a very long time, and we’re going to continue to report the story.”
Just not with Frontline.
Below, Bray went on to tell journalists at the TCA panel that ESPN has always seen itself as both a sports broadcast vehicle as well as a news organization steeped in investigative journalism.
Despite the subsequent stiff-arm from ESPN and the NFL, Frontline’s “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” will air as planned on Oct. 8 and 15. Watch the trailer below.
Watch “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.