ESPN oddly pulled out of PBS’s Frontline investigative documentaries on head injuries in football. Rumors began to emerge that ESPN backed out to keep the NFL happy, but ESPN denied those rumors vehemently. According to a report in today’s New York Times, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
ESPN explained it’s decision to back out citing a lack of control:
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.
ESPN’s James Andrew Miller had a different explanation:
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 and ESPN have continued to deny these allegations both issuing separate statements.
The NFL, via Deadspin, has issued a statement denying the report:
“It is not true that we pressured ESPN to pull out of the film. The lunch was requested several weeks ago by ESPN. We meet with our business partners on a regular basis and this was not unusual.”
ESPN has also released a statement:
“The decision to remove our branding was not a result of concerns about our separate business relationship with the NFL. As we have in the past including as recently as Sunday, we will continue to cover the concussion story aggressively through our own reporting.”