How happy for the NFL that ESPN has decided -- entirely of its own free will -- not to pile onto the league's violence problem
HuffPost reproduced this series of tweets from Sports Business Journal's John Ourand in which both the NFL and ESPN proclaim their innocence of collusion in ESPN's sudden withdrawal from collaboration with PBS's Frontline investigation into the NFL head-injury mess.
I suppose it's possible to believe it's possible that ESPN suddenly withdrew yesterday from its collaboration with PBS's Frontline on an investigation into the concussion-and-head-injury mess confronting the NFL without any consideration of its business relationship with that same NFL. Which is to say it's possible to believe that ESPN only just came to this realization, contained in the statement it issued yesterday following PBS's announcement that the collaboration with ESPN is kaput:
Because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the Frontline documentaries, there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials. The use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control. As we have in the past, we will continue to cover the concussion story through our own reporting.Hey, these things happen. I can certainly understand ESPN's concern that "the use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control." Sure, that concern seems to have come on rather suddenly, especially after what the Frontline statement described as "a collaboration that has spanned the last 15 months and is based on the work of ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, as well as FRONTLINE’s own original journalism."
For the record, here's how the Frontline people characterized yesterday's development:
rom now on, at ESPN’s request, we will no longer use their logos and collaboration credit on these sites and on our upcoming film League of Denial, which investigates the NFL’s response to head injuries among football players.If it only now dawned on the ESPN people that the use of ESPN's marks could lead people to believe that the network had editorial control over the film, then it needed to act promptly, however belatedly.
We don’t normally comment on investigative projects in progress, but we regret ESPN’s decision to end a collaboration that has spanned the last 15 months and is based on the work of ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, as well as FRONTLINE’s own original journalism.
Over that time, we’ve enjoyed a productive partnership with ESPN’s investigative program, Outside the Lines, jointly publishing and co-branding several ground-breaking articles on our respective websites and on their broadcast. We’ve been in sync on the goals of our reporting: to present the deepest accounting so far of the league’s handling of questions around the long-term impact of concussions. This editorial partnership was similar to our many other collaborations with news organizations over the years.
And it would be malicious to suggest otherwise, as HuffPost reports some nasty fellows at the New York Times have been doing:
Citing two unnamed sources described as having "direct knowledge of the situation," James Andrew Miller of the New York Times reported that the NFL pressured ESPN to pull out at a lunch meeting of top officials from both sides. . . .Frontline Deputy Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Roth told James Andrew Miller "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." She also said --
[T]he New York Times reported that the NFL began pressuring ESPN after the trailer for the documentary was released on Aug. 6. The trailer shows people discussing players suffering from dementia and brain disease as a result from playing professional football. The NFL is being sued by thousands of former players claiming that the league hid information linking football-related head trauma to brain injuries.
that until last Friday, there had been no hint of trouble between Frontline and ESPN. She said that Frontline had worked “"in lockstep" with Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president and director of news, and Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer in ESPN's news-gathering unit.As to that lunch meeting, here's what the Times's Miller reported:
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; John Skipper, ESPN's president; 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.
If Patroon's current main dining room isn't to your taste, the Aretsky's Patroon website announces: "We are very excited to present a sneak peek of our new look, coming soon."
To prove that the lunch had nothing to do with ESPN's decision, the NFL points out, as noted in the tweet above, that it was scheduled several weeks ago, and at ESPN's request:
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."There is, you'll note, no discussion of the "combativeness" of the lunch meeting, as James Andrew Miller characterized it base on the characterizations of those two anonymous rats, who know perfectly well that they're not allowed to talk about . . . you know, this stuff.
It's understandable that the NFL doesn't like people talking about . . . you know, this stuff. The league knows perfectly well that it has a critical violence problem. It also knows that:
(1) Its fans like violence, especially in the sanitized way it comes to them on their TVs, which makes it look sort of like Road Runner cartoons.
(2) Given the size and strength to which all those bodies colliding on the field have grown, there may not be any realistic way of dialing down the violence level enough to bring those brain injuries down to an acceptable level.
And anyways, can't the NFL commissioner just have a friendly -- and maybe occasionally feisty (possibly a few drinks were drunk?) -- lunch with a few high-level broadcasting buddies without a federal case being made of it?
By the way, Front Line has scheduled League of Denial (do you suppose it really took much persuasion to persuade the ESPN honchos, who after all are business partners of the NFL, that they don't want to be associated with a production bearing that title?) for October 8 and 15.
For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."