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So, here’s my understanding of what happened:

A couple well-respected reporters at ESPN said, “Hey, let’s do some stories about the rampant problem of untreated, undiagnosed and more or less outright ignored problem of concussions among NFL players.

“Great,” said ESPN. “You should write a book too.”

“YEAH,” the reporters shouted in unison.

“And we’ll even pay for it!”

“YAY,” the writers shouted, delightedly.

“And, you know what?” said venerable PBS news program “Frontline”, “You do your reporting and we’ll film you and do a documentary about this serious problem that’s crippling athletes and duping fans.”

There was much enthusiastic weeing of pants over at ESPN. “ZOMG! THIS IS GONNA BE AMAZING!”

Over at Pulitzer, they start prepping the cannon to fire Pulitzers at everyone involved.

But then…

ESPN’s old buddy the NFL drops by for sodas. ESPN and the NFL go way back. ESPN gets ratings and therefore advertisers because of NFL games. The NFL gets viewers, and therefore fans and revenue through ESPN. ESPN and NFL love each other. LOVE, dammit.

Still, NFL is a little down today.

“What’s wrong, NFL?” asks ESPN over a plate of snickerdoodles.

“Well, you see,” NFL says, “since you asked, we’re a little upset.”

“Why, NFL?” ESPN sets aside the cookie plate, takes NFL’s hand, all concerned. “Tell us, old chum.”

“We’re a little upset about the concussion project.”

“Isn’t it gonna be great?” ESPN says. “Real journalism about a serious health issue. A real chance to have a public discussion about the role of sports in our society.”

“Yeah…” ESPN traces the pattern on the fine china cookie plate, licking cookie crumbs off it’s index finger before answering. “But, see, the documentary makes the NFL look kind of, well…craven, callous and like we don’t give a shit about our players or the fans who give us all that money. A thing like that…well, it could really hurt a good friendship.”

ESPN can’t believe it’s ears. “But…but…but, we are friends, still…right?”

“Sure. Sure we are,” NFL says. “And you know, real friends help each other.”

NFL left that meeting with a pocketful of snickerdoodles.

Next thing you know, ESPN has suddenly realized AFTER A YEAR, that it doesn’t like the level of editorial control it has over the Frontline video and so it pulls its funding. The documentary will happen, of course, airing in October, but without ESPN’s stamp of approval on it.


Welcome to Modern Commercial Journalism 101.


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