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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
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.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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