Claremore Daily Progress


August 24, 2013

ESPN drops out of PBS project on NFL head injuries

LOS ANGELES — ESPN ended its collaboration with PBS on an investigation of the NFL and players' head injuries as public TV producers expressed surprise over the abrupt collapse of the 15-month partnership.

ESPN said its decision was based on a lack of editorial control over "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis,'' airing in October on PBS' "Frontline'' public affairs series. At ESPN's request, its logo was being removed from websites related to the project and from the film itself.

"Because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the `Frontline' documentaries, there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials,'' ESPN said in a statement. "The use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control.''

It was a mistake on ESPN's part that it didn't reach the conclusion sooner, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Friday.

The head injury issue has potentially vast implications for the NFL, with more than 4,000 former players suing the league over claims it hid known concussion risks, leading to high rates of dementia, depression and even suicides.

Some believe the players' claims could be worth $1 billion or more if they move forward in court. The cases involve the deaths of players, medical care of players with disabling dementia, and lifelong medical monitoring for those who are now symptom-free.

The NFL on Friday denied a New York Times report that it had pressured ESPN to drop out of the project with "Frontline.'' The sports network has a lucrative contract to carry league games on "Monday Night Football.''

The Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN pays the NFL more than $1 billion a year for the broadcast rights, the Times said.

ESPN denied that the NFL had any influence.

"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,'' the channel said in a release.

In a separate statement, ESPN President John Skipper defended the channel as a leader "in reporting on the concussion issue, dating back to the mid-1990s,'' and said he wanted to stress its commitment to journalism and support for the work of its reporters.

Raney Aronson, "Frontline'' deputy executive producer, said she and others at "Frontline'' were taken aback by ESPN's decision and that they weren't privy to details of why it was made.

"It's anybody's guess right now about what actually happened,'' said Aronson.

In an online statement, she and "Frontline'' executive producer David Fanning said they regretted ESPN's exit after a productive editorial partnership with ESPN's investigative program "Outside the Lines.''

The Sunday report cited Friday by ESPN as an example of its continuing reporting on concussions was part of its partnership with "Frontline,'' which Aronson noted was credited on the program.

ESPN executives were long aware of the "Frontline'' approach to "League of Denial,'' Aronson said, with the PBS series controlling what it aired or posted online and ESPN doing the same for its programs or postings.

"Frontline'' had been working closely with ESPN's senior vice president and news director Vince Doria and senior producer Dwayne Bray, with no indication of discord until last Friday, she said.

The two-part "League of Denial,'' airing Oct. 8 and 15, draws on reporting by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru Wada, ESPN reporters and brothers who have a forthcoming book on the subject, and original "Frontline'' reporting.

The authors and their work will remain part of the documentary, said Aronson and Fanning.

"The film is still being edited and has not been seen by ESPN news executives, although we were on schedule to share it with them for their editorial input,'' the producers said, adding that the two-part documentary will meet the "rigorous'' standards of fairness, accuracy and depth practiced by "Frontline.''

At a Television Critics Association news conference earlier this month, Bray was queried about ESPN's work on the film given its business relationship with the NFL and responded by calling ESPN a "bifurcated company.''

"You do have the business partners on one side, but you also have the editorial production side,'' Bray said, adding that "Frontline'' is the "gold standard'' of long-form investigative documentaries and ESPN is the same for sports journalism.

"So we respect Frontline greatly. They respect us. And the NFL is going to have to understand that,'' he said.

The NFL calls player safety a top priority and insists injury claims should be handled through league arbitration, in accord with the collective bargaining agreement.

The league has instituted safety measures that include rules changes designed to eliminate hits to the head and neck, protect defenseless players, and prevent concussed players from playing or practicing until they are fully recovered.


Text Only
  • DSC_0016web.jpg District Champions!

    District champions ... Enough said!
    Claremore freshman forward Olivia Maulsby converted a game-winning header with 1:22 remaining to lead the No. 4-ranked Lady Zebras past No. 5 Skiatook, 2-1 Tuesday night in Metro Lakes Conference play at Lantow Field.

    April 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • DSC_0433web.jpg SOCCER: Bulldogs spoil ‘Senior Night’ for Zebras

    Claremore senior goalkeeper Sam Lillie made the most of his first and last varsity start Tuesday night against Skiatook on Senior Night at Lantow Field.
    For 40 minutes, Lillie was flawless in the goal, allowing only one goal and making several tenacious stops against the fiery Bulldogs.
    The second-half, however, told a different story as No. 3 Skiatook scored four goals and enjoyed a 5-0 win over the No. 15 Zebras.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Berryhill’s White strikes out 17, tosses no-hitter over No. 1 Verdigris

    Top-ranked Class 3A Verdigris got White-washed by 4A No.3 Berryhill on Tuesday night.
    In a battle of 2013 state champions, Chiefs’ ace Nick White — a future Oklahoma State pitcher —  fired a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts, igniting a 5-0 victory over the Cardinals.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stilwell’s Lea signs with RSU men's basketball

    Rogers State University men's basketball head coach Justin Barkley announced the addition of standout center Matt Lea for the 2014-15 season.

    April 23, 2014

  • HANSLOVANweb.jpg SOCCER: No. 2 Lady Cards roll past Oologah

    Verdigris senior forward Caitlyn Hanslovan tallied another ‘hat trick’ in her illustrious Lady Cardinals soccer career Tuesday night at Oologah.
    The three goals by Hanslovan soared the second-ranked Lady Cardinals past Oologah, 5-0 in non-conference play at Mustangs Stadium.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • 5 Claremore HS tennis players earn all-conference

    The Claremore High School boys and girls varsity tennis programs had five players receive Metro Lakes all-conference recognition.

    April 23, 2014

  • SEC MEN'S BB: Johnson, Poythress returning to Kentucky

    Kentucky's frontcourt will bring back size and experience next season after freshman center Dakari Johnson and sophomore forward Alex Poythress announced they would return.

    April 23, 2014

  • NBA PLAYOFFS: Grizzlies look to keep home edge against Thunder

    The Grizzlies are happy to be back in Memphis, where they finished the regular season by winning a franchise-record 14 straight games.
    They brought home-court advantage with them.
    To guard Mike Conley, that ratchets up the pressure even more. It's time for the Grizzlies to protect the place they call the Grindhouse.

    April 23, 2014

  • NBA PLAYOFFS: Warriors, Clippers to meet in Oakland for Game 3

    Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson sat on the scorer's table at Oracle Arena on Wednesday morning. He gazed around the building and tried to envision what it will look and sound like when the Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night.

    April 23, 2014

  • Arkansas' Beeks among SEC pitchers having banner season

    Now more than ever, the key to success in the Southeastern Conference is pitching.
    The league has the lowest ERA in the country, and aces abound as postseason play approaches next month.
    LSU's Aaron Nola (7-1, 0.88 ERA), Arkansas' Jalen Beeks (5-3, 1.49) and Mississippi's Chris Ellis (5-0, 1.72) are among those dominating almost every time they take the mound.

    April 23, 2014