Pressure from NFL executives has led to ESPN pulling the plug on the network's collaboration with PBS award-winning program "Frontline" on an investigative documentary about the league and head injuries, according to The New York Times
The documentary, titled "League of Denial," is a two-part collaboration between ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and "Frontline" set to premiere in October, said the Los Angeles Times
. The program includes interviews with former NFL players and has been reported to not show the NFL in a positive light in how it has handle head injuries and concussions.
The New York Times reported that the documentary created a heated meeting between league officials, including commissioner Roger Goodell, and ESPN executives last week.
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ESPN pays $1 billion annually to the NFL to broadcast "Monday Night Football," which continues to be a big ratings and revenue winner for ESPN and its parent Disney.
The network announced this week that because it did not produce or have editorial control over "League of Denial," it would be inappropriate to be associated with it, reported the Los Angeles Times.
"The use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control," network officials told the Los Angeles Times.
Raney Aronson-Rath, the deputy executive producer of "Frontline," told the New York Times, though, that PBS had worked "in lock step" with Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news, and Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer in ESPN’s news-gathering unit. Aronson-Rath told The New York Times there was no hint of trouble over the horizon.
The news also came as a surprise to the ESPN reporting brother team of Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, whose past research and interviews provide the foundation and hypothesis for the documentary.
"We’re obviously disappointed because the partnership has been a phenomenal one, and we don’t totally understand what happened," Fainaru-Wada told The New York Times. "Nothing we’ve been told by anybody suggests that they’re backing off on the journalism."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday that there was no arm twisting by the league to get ESPN to step out of bounds on the documentary.
"At no time did we formally or informally ask them to divorce themselves from the project," Aiello said. "We know the movie was happening and the book was happening, and we respond to them as best we can. We deny that we pressured them."
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