ESPN Ends Collaboration With PBS' 'Frontline' On NFL Concussion Doc

ESPN has ended its 15-month collaboration with PBS' Frontline on the upcoming documentary, League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis. The two-part series takes an in-depth look into the NFL's growing concussion problem.

"From now on, at ESPN's request, we will no longer use their logos and collaboration credit on these sites and on our upcoming film League of Denial,"read the a statement on the PBS Web site. "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 full statement can be read here.

The project was based on an upcoming book from Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. "Because ESPN is neither producing nor exercising editorial control over the Frontline documentaries, there will be no co-branding involving ESPN on the documentaries or their marketing materials," said the network through a statement. "The use of ESPN's marks could incorrectly imply that we have editorial control.  As we have in the past, we will continue to cover the concussion story through our own reporting." ESPN had a concussion segment during last Sunday's Outside the Lines.

Frontline still plans to air the two-part doc Oct. 8 and 15.

ESPN had been promoting the project on multiple occasions, and even partnered with Frontline to create a concussion tracker: Concussion Watch. Earlier during the TCA press tour this month, Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada, Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer of ESPN's Enterprise Unit and OTL touted the project.

ESPN -- which is paying the NFL $1.1 billion in the final year of existing rights deal, before a new eight, year $15.2 billion pact goes into effect with the 2014 season -- had been reported to drop out due to heavy pressure from the league. Both parties have denied that was a factor. "The decision to remove our branding was not a result of concerns about our separate business relationship with the NFL," said ESPN in another statement. "As we have in the past including as recently as Sunday, we will continue to cover the concussion story aggressively through our own reporting."  

On Friday afternoon, ESPN president John Skipper issued these remarks: "We have been leaders in reporting on the concussion issue, dating back to the mid-1990s.  Most recently, we aired a lengthy, thorough, well-reported segment on Outside the Lines on Sunday, and re-aired it Tuesday. I want to be clear about ESPN’s commitment to journalism and the work of our award-winning enterprise team.  We will continue to report this story and will continue to support the work of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.

"We have respect as well for the efforts of the people at Frontline," he concluded.

In February 2004, ESPN punted on Playmakers, a drama series about a fictional football pro football team that the NFL was highly critical of.

Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive vice president of programming and production at the time, said the NFL's negative reaction to the series played a role in Playmakers' demise after its rookie run.

The call to end Playmakers came just days after Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction during a musical bump-and-grind with pop star Justin Timberlake on MTV's Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime production. The NFL subsequently assumed control of its Super Bowl halftime entertainment in the wake of the incident.