How is the NFL like Big Tobacco?


I find the NFL’s conduct in this matter more and more like that of the Big Tobacco executives who in the 1990s lied to Congress and denied there had long been knowledge within their companies that nicotine in cigarettes was addictive. Among several issues that league execs should answer for is whether they have for many years known that injured players risked longterm disability and shortened life expectancy from competing too soon after having suffered concussions. I find their behavior obnoxious but unsurprising. But for ESPN, I have I think even more scorn. They’re happy to be thought of as an influential media player, committing journalism and keeping an eye on organized sports’ tendency toward corruption and malpractice when it serves their reputation-building purposes, but then they readily revert to being a commercial player, with Disney corporatism holding the whip hand once the league turns on the heat full blast.

Maybe the lesson is we should not show trust for the journalism put out by ESPN. A pity, because I know there are many capable reporters and correspondents working for the network, including the brother reporting team of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, authors of the forthcoming  League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, the book accompanying “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” the PBS Frontline documentary that the NY Times article suggests Disney forced ESPN to back out of sharing in ownership of and credit for, even after the network and the authors had spent months working on it alongside producers at Frontline.

Below is the trailer for the program that according to the Times became a major point of contention at the recent midtown Manhattan lunch meeting between NFL and ESPN execs. The book, with nearly the same title as the program, will go on sale a few days before it is first broadcast. Another item of interest is the online statement Frontline producers put out, regretting ESPN’s decision and promising their viewers “The two-hour documentary and accompanying digital reporting will honor FRONTLINE’s rigorous standards of fairness, accuracy, transparency and depth.”

Watch “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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