NFL says it didn’t pressure ESPN to pull out of Frontline project

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Mentioned in the report that the NFL pressured ESPN to abandon its concussion project with PBS, but hardly highlighted, is the league’s position that no pressure was applied.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reiterated in an email to PFT that the league did not pressure ESPN to abandon the effort.

“It is not true that we pressured ESPN to pull out of the film,” Aiello said.  “The lunch was requested several weeks ago by ESPN.  We meet with our business partners on a regular basis and this was not unusual.”

The lunch reportedly occurred between Commissioner Roger Goodell, outgoing NFL Network chief Steve Bornstein, ESPN president John Skipper, and ESPN executive V.P. for production John Wildhack.

Still, it’s hard not to think that the NFL put the squeeze on ESPN — especially since short-timer Bornstein, a former ESPN president, attended the sit-down.  Ten years ago, the league had no qualms about openly calling for ESPN to dump Playmakers.  With ESPN engaged in concussion-related journalism that, at times, seems a little over the top or simply inaccurate, there’s nothing wrong with the NFL being concerned, and there’s nothing wrong with the NFL expressing those concerns.

Of course, the outcome arguably makes ESPN look worse than the league — if pressure was indeed applied.  Critics will say that ESPN should have a firewall between its journalistic enterprises and its business interests.  If ESPN shuttered a journalistic operation due to business concerns, that’s a potential problem.

Maybe the truth is that neither the NFL nor ESPN management were comfortable with journalism that at times wasn’t balanced or fair.  Last November, for example, ESPN journalists tried to paint a 14-year-old disability award to Mike Webster as proof that the league knew all about the dangers of mild brain injuries long before the NFL admitted to having such knowledge and acting on it.  ESPN called it a “smoking gun,” but it was neither smoking nor a gun — especially since the NFLPA (i.e., the players) had a direct role in the disability process and, in turn, awareness of the ruling and, necessarily, the chronic risks of concussions.

Regardless, ESPN and the NFL deny that pressure was placed on ESPN.  The New York Times contends otherwise.  Most people likely will believe the New York Times report, because it makes sense that the NFL would have concerns — and it makes sense given ESPN’s past willingness to pull the plug on the popular Playmakers show that ESPN would find a plausible path away from its PBS partnership.

18 responses to “NFL says it didn’t pressure ESPN to pull out of Frontline project

  1. It also was not added in this post that NFL executives refused to participate in the documentary.

    Personally, I have always found ESPN to be a bit hackish, especially when Chris Berman, a so called “sportscaster” is one of the longest tenured employees there.

    Laying down to the Big Man (NFL) seems about right.

  2. PBS is a government network paid for and funded solely by taxpayers, which is notorious for wasting millions in taxpayers money. This is not a privately owned network.

    Why should the NFL support and provide so much as a $1 to PBS(or basically give it back to the government)?

  3. Journalistic integrity and ESPN do not go in the same sentence. Ever since Mickey Mouse bought ESPN, every decision is based solely on it’s marketing impact.

  4. @jayniner
    In reality, only about 15-20% of PBS funding comes from tax dollars. The rest is from public donations.

  5. How fitting is it that ESPN’s president is named John Skipper, or that their VP for production is named John Wildhack? I know I can’t be the only one who noticed that?

    (BTW, I’m not saying it is or is not fitting….just thought it was funny.)

  6. Yeah, PBS, that notorious drainer of the economy.


    I also believe that our banks are paragons of virtue and had no idea that derivatives would cause the economy to crash.

  7. ESPN has been putting business and programming interests ahead of journalistic integrity for a very long time – at least since the ABC buyout. This should come to the surprise of absolutely no one.

  8. jayniner says: PBS is a government network paid for and funded solely by taxpayers, which is notorious for wasting millions in taxpayers money.

    [citation needed]

  9. The NFL may have just saved PBS from the embarrassment of actually using ESPN as a source for their special. If you want unbiased facts, ESPN is defiantly not the place to go. It’s a joke of a network for the dumbest of fans.

  10. I, for one, don’t understand why the NFL continues to do business with ESPN. The network’s constant badgering of the NFL and the alleged risks of playing football are designed to end the sport and put the NFL out of business.
    ESPN would like nothing better than to rid the world of football while propelling the NBA to the top of the food chain.
    If I were the NFL, I’d say “see ya” to ESPN as soon as possible… I’m sure “Fox Sports 1” would love to broadcast “Monday Night Football.”

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