NFL Denies It Pressured ESPN to Pull Out of PBS Concussion Documentary

NFL Denies It Pressured ESPN to Pull Out of PBS Concussion Documentary

On Friday, the NFL denied that it forced ESPN to pull out of PBS’s documentary on football concussions after a report suggested NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with ESPN executives to force them to pull the plug on the collaboration. 

The New York Times reported

Last week, several high-ranking officials convened a lunch meeting at Patroon, near the league’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because they were prohibited by their superiors from discussing the matter publicly. It was a table for four: Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L.; Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network; ESPN’s president, John Skipper; and John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production.

At the combative meeting, the people said, league officials conveyed their displeasure with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe a narrative that has been captured in various news reports over the past decade: the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability.

ESPN and PBS had agreed that PBS would have editorial control over the project while ESPN would retain control over parts of the project it used on its properties.

The Times reported that the two networks “had been working for 15 months on a two-part documentary, to be televised in October. But ESPN’s role came under intense pressure by the league, the two people said, after a trailer for the documentary was released Aug. 6, the day that the project was discussed at a Television Critics Association event.”

ESPN produces the most revenue for Disney, its parent company, and much of that has to do with the network’s relationship with the NFL, which is under fire from former players for ignoring the risks associated with concussions. 

After the report, the NFL responded:

“It is not true that we pressured ESPN to pull out of the film. The lunch was requested several weeks ago by ESPN. We meet with our business partners on a regular basis and this was not unusual.”

The two-part series will air on October 8 and 15, and will now receive more publicity because of ESPN’s withdrawal.