NFL pressures ESPN to back out of concussion documentary

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

After denying any involvement from the NFL in ESPN's decision to quit a film project with "Frontline," the New York Times reports the NFL was the primary cause for the decision to back out of the project.

Recently, the story broke that ESPN had decided to end its association with a film project being produced by "Frontline" that would be titled, "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis." The original reason was supposedly to clarify that ESPN did not have an editorial role in the two-part documentary set to come out this October.

Despite ESPN's move, it was clear that much of the flavor of the documentary would have an ESPN spin to it, rather than the stylings of a normal Fronline story. Frontline deputy executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath, expressed surprise and disappointment at the decision after the partnership had been going well with the project. She also indicated that she believed it was not ESPN's decision to take their endorsements from the series.

A day later, Aronson-Rath's hunch proved to be right. James Andrew Miller of the New York Times reported today that the NFL did pressure ESPN to back out of the documentary. Greg Aiello spoke on behalf of the NFL denying the claims, but a lunch meeting between top officials from both the NFL and ESPN suggested otherwise. Miller reported today that last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Network president Steve Bornstein, ESPN president John Skipper and ESPN executive vice president for production, where the league's officials expressed their dismay for the documentary.

Reportedly, the league specifically disliked that the documentary was going to focus on the league's disregard for blatant evidence that players were suffering from brain trauma on the field that would most likely lead to long-term cognitive disability. With the concussion lawsuit against the NFL continuing next month, all appearances show that evidence in the documentary could prove damaging to the league's position on the issues involved with the case.

Considering that Aronson-Rath was quoted to say that up to last week there had been no problems or complaints from ESPN, it's hard to believe anything the NFL may have to say that would dissuade someone from thinking they pressured ESPN away from the project.

Much like in 2004, when the NFL forced ESPN to drop the hit television show, Playmakers, league spokesmen are trying to dismay the notion they wanted to hide any negative press about the league from showing up on networks that show NFL games.

In 2004, it was supposedly because the show "traded in racial stereotypes" that the NFL was displeased with ESPN's involvement in the show, and it ended after only one season.

As an African-American, I loved the show Playmakers and found no egregious offenses from how the show depicted the NFL or any racial stereotypes portrayed in the show; and find it ironic that the NFL had such a big problem with the show, but chose not to fine Riley Cooper after his video where he is recorded using racist language - The latter being much more offensive than the former.

Moving forward, Frontline will still air the documentary, and ESPN will still conduct its own reporting on concussions in the NFL; but it will be interesting to see the stark contrast expected from the two as the trial continues this fall.

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