By Ken Reed
ESPN recently decided to end its partnership with PBS on a project called “League of Denial,” a documentary that was supposed to be part of PBS’ high-quality Frontline series.
The New York Times reported that ESPN officials met with NFL administrators, including commissioner Roger Goodell, and shortly thereafter pulled the plug on their involvement in the “League of Denial.”
“My first reaction is that I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said George Atallah, the assistant director of external affairs at the NFL Players Association, in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Regardless of the reason for the decision that ESPN decided to distance themselves from the documentary, I think it’s sad. And the biggest disappointment is that the business interests have gotten in the way of journalistic integrity.”
Journalistic integrity isn’t something ESPN is known for (despite the excellent show Outside the Lines, which increasingly must be seen as nothing more than a PR tool for the business side of the network). ESPN low-keyed the Penn St./Joe Paterno scandal until the issue blew up on other media outlets. And they’ve caved in to NFL demands in the past.
As Dave Zirin reported, the true ESPN journalists (yes, there are some) aren’t happy with ESPN’s decision to drop the “League of Denial” project.
“The collective picture they (ESPN journalists) paint is one of a disheartened newsroom that feels disrespected, dismissed, and demoralized,” writes Zirin.
These ESPN reporters know the publicity this decision has received will result in long-term damage to their credibility as journalists. Moving forward, ESPN simply can’t be counted on to give news reports that aren’t tainted by the company’s partnership with the NFL and other sports entities.
“I don’t think those on the business side are bad people. But what you have are people with utterly opposed jobs,” one current ESPN reporter told Zirin. ” Their job is to keep the broadcast partners happy. Our job is to investigate them. That theoretically could produce a creative tension but the power imbalance [at ESPN] is ridiculous. It’s like they’re Mike Tyson and we’re Evander’s ear.”
For the true journalists at ESPN — and for the rest of us that care about the concussion issue and the win-at-all-costs and profit-all-costs mindsets that too often dominate in sports — here’s hoping that when “League of Denial” is released this fall millions of sports fans and athletes will tune in to PBS to watch.
“The Documentary That the NFL and ESPN Don’t Want You to See” is sure to be compelling viewing.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families. Linda writes extensively about how youth sports can hijack families, and family outings, non-sports activities and bonding time are lost in the pursuit of the next club team game or travel tournament.
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Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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