ESPN Backs Out Of PBS ‘Frontline’ Documentary On NFL Concussions

By Alex Weprin Comment

It was one of the biggest sports media stories of 2012. ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader” in sports, would be partnering with the PBS investigative series “Frontline” on a series of reports on concussions in the NFL, culminating with a film this October.

The partnership resulted in a number of long-form articles about the NFL’s response to concussions, as well as a number of reports on “Outside the Lines,” ESPN’s acclaimed newsmagazine.

Now, the partnership is seemingly dead in the water, as ESPN has pulled its support from the project, just a few months before the feature documentary “League of Denial” debuts on PBS. “Frontline” will move forward with the project on its own.

On the “Frontline” blog, the producers explain:

We don’t normally comment on investigative projects in progress, but we regret ESPN’s decision to end a collaboration that has spanned the last 15 months and is based on the work of ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, as well as FRONTLINE’s own original journalism…

The film is still being edited and has not been seen by ESPN news executives, although we were on schedule to share it with them for their editorial input. The two-hour documentary and accompanying digital reporting will honor FRONTLINE’s rigorous standards of fairness, accuracy, transparency and depth.

ESPN, in a statement, says that the fact that it did not have editorial control was the reason for backing out. It does not explain why the channel waited until now to do so.

“The use of ESPN’s marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control,” ESPN said. “As we have in the past, we will continue to cover the concussion story through our own reporting.”

Deadspin’s John Koblin and The New Republic‘s Marc Tracy have more.

Update: James Andrew Miller writes in the NY Times that the NFL pressured ESPN into backing out.