Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie, right, lies on the field after being injured as teammate Reggie Wayne, center, looks on, while back judge Todd Prukop walks nearby during the first half of the Colts' NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Miles Kennedy)
Pierce: ESPN’s credibility suffers self-inflicted wound
TV » Pulling out of PBS program makes it the Documentary NFL Didn’t Want You To See
First Published Aug 27 2013 11:03 am • Last Updated Aug 28 2013 11:11 pm

ESPN came to a fork in the road and chose a path that delivered a blow to its credibility.

The Worldwide Leader In Sports, reportedly bowing to pressure from the NFL, pulled its name off a co-production with PBS — a two-part documentary titled "League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis."

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The documentary is damning. And that’s not a strong enough word. After watching a few minutes of clips, I breathed a sigh of relief that my son didn’t play football.

(And I am not a football hater. It has always been my favorite sport.)

"Because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the Frontline documentaries, there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials," ESPN said in a statement.

The documentary will go ahead as planned. The only change is that the ESPN name and logo have been removed.

But ESPN’s statement made it sound as if it had just slapped its logo on the "Frontline" documentary and had no real input. But the two hours are based on the work of ESPN investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru Wada, who are also writing a book about the concussion issue — also titled "League of Denial."

And ESPN’s Dwayne Bray was the senior coordinating producer, described by "Frontline’s" deputy executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath as "central to the success of this."

While both PBS and ESPN made it clear the NFL had refused to cooperate, just two weeks ago Bray went out of his way to insist that the NFL could not and would not interfere.

"I think one of the interesting things about ESPN is it’s sort of a bifurcated company," Bray said. "You do have the business partners on one side, but you also have the editorial production side."

story continues below
story continues below

He went on to describe ESPN as "the gold standard for sports journalism," adding that while "League of Denial" will not make the NFL look good, "The NFL is going to have to understand that."

I, for one, feel sorry for Bray, whose bosses cut his legs out from under him.

The NFL insists that it put no pressure on ESPN. ESPN insists it received no pressure.

Pretty much no one believes that. I certainly don’t.

This is what happens when you’re in business with the people you cover. ESPN didn’t have a lot of credibility when it came to reporting on the BCS when ESPN dollars were propping up that rotten system.

The same can be said of MLB, NBA, NFL and college leagues ranging from the Mountain West to the SEC — and individual teams like Texas and BYU.

In theory, ESPN could build a wall between its journalists and the cable giant’s business partners. But not when that wall has holes like the one that allowed ESPN to cancel the highly rated football drama "Playmakers" in 2003 — under pressure from the NFL. Or when ESPN suddenly pulls its name off "League of Denial."

In truth, ESPN’s withdrawal could well be the best thing that could happen to the documentary. PBS couldn’t buy the kind of publicity that has already been generated. And that will be redoubled when "League of Denial" airs in October.

All of a sudden, this went from being a damning documentary to "The Documentary the NFL Didn’t Want You to See."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.