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ESPN Backs Out Of Concussion Documentary


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. So good to say it's time for sports.


SIMON: And we're just a couple of weeks away from the start of the NFL season but inquiring minds want to know did ESPN take a dive for the NFL? Joining us now to explore this and a couple of other questions is our man, NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good to be with you again, Scott.

SIMON: And the world wide leader in sports (makes sounds) pulled out of a two-part documentary project with PBS' "Frontline" about concussions in the NFL that will apparently raise the question of if the league has concealed information about brain injuries. The excellence of "Frontline's" well established. I've got to say I've been impressed by the quality and rigor of ESPN's investigative reporting over the years.

Their decision to withdraw from this project was made after ESPN execs had what the New York Times describes as a combative lunch with NFL commissioner Goodell. ESPN says that meeting or the fact that they have a kagillion(ph) dollar contract to broadcast NFL games is unrelated to their decision. But this doesn't look good for the league, does it?

GOLDMAN: It doesn't, and the league also says it didn't force the ESPN split with "Frontline" either. Bu, you know, Scott, you can see how the title of the documentary alone could instill a little worry in the NFL, "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis." And the trailer for the documentary released earlier this month reportedly spooked the NFL.

It includes a couple of quotes from brain research experts, one wondering if all NFL players might have long-term concussion-related brain disease. The other researcher talking about how the NFL will squash you if you get in its way. Now the league, of course, is dealing with an enormous legal challenge from over 4,000 players and their families who contend the NFL for decades hid information about the effects of head trauma.

SIMON: The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. At some point, do the people who give them that money, and I mean fans like you and me and millions of others, assume some responsibility for this?

GOLDMAN: Well, perhaps, you know, but I think for the longest time fans didn't really see this or didn't choose to look at it, and that allowed them to thoroughly enjoy what they thought was the controlled violence of the game. But in the last five years with all the news stories and testimonials by former players with battered brains, and now what we're told is this most comprehensive documentary and companion book. It's impossible for fans not to see that the game as it's always been played may in fact be extremely hazardous to long-term health. And as the revelations continue, you wonder if, you know, a critical mass is approaching where a number of fans finally say change the game or I'm done.

SIMON: Yeah. Let's note briefly, Little League World Series. We're in the middle of it. It's a great thing to see. You and I both played baseball at that age. I broke both of my thumbs...

GOLDMAN: Not on ESPN thought.

SIMON: No, not on ESPN. No, I broke both of my thumbs in successive summers and I tell you, when I broke that second one - I caught a hot smash back through the box - until I got married that was the greatest moment of my life.

GOLDMAN: Oh, my God. The kind of thing that Vin Scully would have called and should have called.

SIMON: Vin Scully. He signed up for one more season, his 56th year, the guy who first said Jackie Robinson at second base for the Dodgers, now says come to Dodgers.com.

GOLDMAN: Is he our hero or what, Scott? Eight-five, happy and healthy, doing what he loves instead of retiring coming back for more. And he still gets jazzed by the game. He admitted that the Dodger's turnaround this season from last place early on to where they currently sit atop the NL West with 10-1/2 game lead, he said that energized him. He's coming back. Great news for Dodgers fans.

SIMON: Oh, it sure is. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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