New Report Says ESPN Pulled Out Of Investigation Into Football Concussions Under Pressure From The NFL

Getty ImagesHarry Carson

is no longer collaborating with “Frontline” on a project investigating concussions in the NFLafter being pressured by the league, according to James Andrew Miller of the
New York Times.

According to the report, the relationship ended after ESPN president John Skipper had a “combative” lunch meeting with Roger Goodell and two others.

This meeting came after the release of a trailer for “League of Denial,” the latest investigative collaboration between ESPN and “Frontline.”

The latest film “investigates what the NFL knew and when they knew it” when it comes to concussions. The NFL is currently facing a class-action lawsuit involving retired players and the accusation that the league did not do enough to protect them from head injuries.

If the report is true, it raises serious concerns over whether ESPN is able to cover the NFL objectively. It also suggests that the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader In Sports” will cower to the league that ESPN pays more than $US1 billion each year for the right to broadcast games and have access to players and and personnel.

The NFL issued a statement to, saying that it is “not true” that they pressured ESPN to back out of the partnership and noted that the lunch meeting was requested by ESPN.

ESPN told Business Insider in a statement on Thursday that they were only pulling out of the relationship “because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the Frontline documentaries.”

“Frontline’s” deputy executive producer Raney Aronson told that, to her knowledge, ESPN never sought editorial control of the productions and that “Frontline” was preparing to present the material to ESPN for its “editorial input.”

The “Frontline” films are based on the work of brothers and ESPN investigative reporters, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wade. They will continue to work on the project and told the New York Times that there is no indication that ESPN will stop investigating the NFL and concussions.

As recently as this past weekend, Fainaru-Wade and John Barr worked on a piece for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” raising questions about the qualifications of one of the NFL’s leading doctors and one of the central figures of the NFL’s concussion program.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the New York Times:

“At no time did we formally or informally ask them to divorce themselves from the project. 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.”

ESPN gave us the following 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.”

Here is the trailer for “League of Denial”…

Watch “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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