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NFL pressured ESPN to drop out of concussion project

The NFL is extremely sensitive about concussions, especially how they're viewed as dealing with it.

Allison Joyce

Don't displease the NFL.

Players have known that for years. More now today. Coaches too.

ESPN is learning that... again.

According to a New York Times story, the NFL has leveled enough pressure against ESPN that the sports giant has decided to "pull out of an investigative project with 'Frontline' regarding head injuries in the NFL."

"Frontline," the PBS public affairs series, and ESPN 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 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

According to the report, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Network president Steve Bornstein, ESPN's president John Skipper and ESPN's executive vice president for production, held a lunch meeting last week with league officials conveying "their displeasure with the direction of the documentary."

The NFL and ESPN have denied there was pressure.

"At no time did we formally or informally ask them to divorce themselves from the project," said Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the N.F.L. "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."

Chris LaPlaca, an ESPN spokesman, said Thursday that ESPN’s decision was not based on any concerns about hurting its contractual relationship with the N.F.L. Rather, the network said in a statement, it was ending its official association with "Frontline" because it did not have editorial control of what appeared on the public television public affairs series.

ESPN currently pays the NFL more than $1 billion per year for broadcasting rights for Monday Night Football.

As of June 1, 2013, "there are more than 4,800" former players (upwards to 5,800 people including player spouses) named in 242 concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL. Perception is big for the NFL right now, especially in regards to head injuries, and they have the power to suppress such reports from companies that benefit greatly with NFL programming.

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