ESPN made news this past week when the sport's network pulled it's backing and affiliation with an upcoming PBS documentary about concussions in the NFL.

The film, entitled Frontline's League of Denial: the NFL's Concussion Crisis, is based in the investigative journalism of ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who have an upcoming book of the same title. According to PBS, the documentary will air as scheduled on October 8 and 15 with it's content unaltered.

If it seemed suspicious that ESPN would get cold-feet after spending 15 months in collaboration on the project, that's because it was. A day later, the New York Times reported that the NFL pressured ESPN to discontinue it's backing of the project.

From Andrew James Miller:

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.
Move along folks, nothing to see here!

Nothing about this is surprising, because the story perfectly encapsulates the worst qualities of both involved parties. On one hand you have ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Starf*cking, proving once again that no shred of journalistic integrity is worth risking a dime over. For their part, ESPN has already issued a statement denying the Times report, saying:
"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."

In case you needed a reminder of the kind of hard-hitting, no-nonsense journalism ESPN does, here's a reminder.

On the other hand, you have the NFL and Roger Goodell, whose dedication to being a soulless corporate machine make ESPN look like amateurs by comparison. As usual, the second a fraction of the NFL's annual billion dollar profit becomes threatened, Goodell swoops in, public opinion or common sense be damned, to bully the "threat" into submission.

Goodell is in a no-lose situation as commissioner. The NFL has become too big to fail and Goodell knows it. No matter what he does, fans will tune in, play fantasy football, bet on games and continue to push the league's profits even higher. Goodell can do practically anything and get away with it. Go ahead and boo him at the draft, he'll go home and count the $29 million that he made last year.

Want proof? Last year, he was fully willing to risk something like this over pensions for NFL referees, a dispute over less than 1% of league revenue, despite the fact that league profits continue to rise every year.

Even Especially on an subject matter as delicate as concussions, the NFL is extra-protective of its bottom line. "Player safety" is given constant lip service by the league office, as big fines, rule changes and Super Bowl ads hammer the PR line home that the league is doing everything they can to make the game safer. Of course, nothing says "We care about player safety" like advocating for an 18 game schedule. Or pressuring a business into yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LA" and sticking their fingers in their ears while damning evidence connecting head trauma and football grows by the day.

So, the NFL threw around its weight to ensure that the truth didn't get in the way of their profit margins, while ESPN proved once again that protecting the golden goose is far more important than actual, you know, reporting. In other news, the sun came up today.

Ned Brady 8/24/2013 04:00:00 PM Edit

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