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ESPN Drops Out of PBS Project on NFL Head Injuries

By Lynn Elber AP Television Writer | 8/26/2013, 10:23 a.m.
The NFL calls player safety a top priority and insists injury claims should be handled through league arbitration, in accord with the collective bargaining agreement.

"Frontline" had been working closely with ESPN's senior vice president and news director Vince Doria and senior producer Dwayne Bray, with no indication of discord until last Friday, she said.

The two-part "League of Denial," airing Oct. 8 and 15, draws on reporting by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru Wada, ESPN reporters and brothers who have a forthcoming book on the subject, and original "Frontline" reporting.

The authors and their work will remain part of the documentary, said Aronson and Fanning.

"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 producers said, adding that the two-part documentary will meet the "rigorous" standards of fairness, accuracy and depth practiced by "Frontline."

At a Television Critics Association news conference earlier this month, Bray was queried about ESPN's work on the film given its business relationship with the NFL and responded by calling ESPN a "bifurcated company."

"You do have the business partners on one side, but you also have the editorial production side," Bray said, adding that "Frontline" is the "gold standard" of long-form investigative documentaries and ESPN is the same for sports journalism.

"So we respect Frontline greatly. They respect us. And the NFL is going to have to understand that," he said.

The NFL calls player safety a top priority and insists injury claims should be handled through league arbitration, in accord with the collective bargaining agreement.

The league has instituted safety measures that include rules changes designed to eliminate hits to the head and neck, protect defenseless players, and prevent concussed players from playing or practicing until they are fully recovered.