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The National Football League reportedly pressured ESPN to drop out of a collaborative film project with PBS’ Frontline that examined the league’s treatment of head injuries. The NFL denies these claims, saying that a lunch between high-ranking NFL and ESPN executives was not an unusual meeting.
The New York Times cited two anonymous sources who claimed that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Network President Steve Bornstein, ESPN President John Skipper and John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production, met for lunch on Aug. 7, a day after Frontline released a trailer for League of Denial. The special will cover the issues many recent reports have claimed - that the NFL turned a blind eye towards players’ head injuries on the field.
ESPN was pressured by the league, according to the report, to withdraw from the project, which it did on Thursday. The Disney-owned network airs Monday Night Football, a ratings juggernaut that ESPN pays the NFL $1 billion to broadcast.
ESPN’s Outside The Lines program had worked with PBS’ Frontline on the project. Last week, the two sides collaborated on a story about a single doctor’s questionable role in allowing players to return to the field after injuries.
According to TheWrap, NFL Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Aiello has said that the league did not pressure ESPN to pull out. “It is not true that we pressured ESPN to pull out of the film,” Aiello explained. "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 claimed it pulled out of the project because it didn’t have editorial control.
“The decision to remove our branding was not a result of concerns about our separate business relationship with the NFL,” ESPN stated. “As we have in the past including as recently as Sunday, we will continue to cover the concussion story aggressively through our own reporting.”
Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer of Frontline, told the Times that ESPN understood the partnership for over a year. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, ESPN’s logo will no longer appear in materials for the documentary and book.
The project includes a book, titled League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, and the two-part documentary, which will air on Oct. 8 and 15.
image: Wikimedia Commons