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 #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – The guest is Gary McCoy, a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations. Our focus is the injury pandemic in baseball, what’s causing it and how it can be fixed.
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Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Episode #11 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Latest on Brain Trauma, Concussions and CTE with Dr. Chris Nowinski – Nowinski is CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
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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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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