ESPN breaks off ties with ‘League of Denial’

An interesting — and potentially troubling — kink has been found in the upcoming PBS Frontline documentary that tells the story of concussions being inflicted on professional football players.

Frontline is planning to broadcast “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” over two nights — Oct. 8 and 15 — at 9 p.m. KACV-TV will broadcast the groundbreaking documentary both nights.

But this news just came in: ESPN, the nation’s leading sports and entertainment network, is ending its collaboration with Frontline’s production of the documentary.

Frontline will no longer use ESPN’s logo to promote the special.

But the show will go on, courtesy of WGBH-TV out of Boston, Mass., which is the headquarters station for Frontline.

I’m not in a position to speculate aloud why ESPN is ending its involvement with the special, but other media — such as the New York Times — are reporting possible pressure being applied by the National Football League on the network that broadcasts a huge number of NFL games each season.

Could such pressure be true? Well, consider that the NFL sought a retraction from Frontline’s reporting in Part One of the special about Hall of Fame center Mike Webster’s neurological disease that medical experts attribute to the concussions he suffered during his 17-year playing career. Webster eventually died of complications from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“The league demanded a retraction of the scientific paper explaining the diagnosis,” Frontline executives said in a statement, “insisted there was no evidence linking football to chronic brain disease and used its own heavily funded research arm to try to kill the findings and discredit the researchers behind them.”

Whatever the reason, ESPN is now out of the picture.

As is the case with any of the work that Frontline does for public television, it will be a thorough examination of a growing problem among highly paid professional athletes.

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