Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Producers of PBS’ Frontline documentary League Of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, said today at TCA that the NFL has not cooperated in any way with the project or approved any of the film footage. The two-part series is a collaboration between Frontline and ESPN’s Outside The Lines. ESPN is providing interview footage for the project, but not actual game footage.
Filmmaker Michael Kirk said that NFL has been as resistant to revealing information as other major institutions have been to Frontline investigations, including the CIA. “They obviously don’t want to talk about it and it’s too bad, because it’s a huge, huge problem,” Kirk said. Said senior ESPN writer Steve Fainaru: “They did not cooperate. They [the NFL] are being sued by one third of the players dealing with this issue.”
Dwayne Bray, ESPN senior coordinating producer, said that ESPN has been aware of —and reporting on— the problem of concussions in football since the early 1990s. He said the NFL is just going to have to “understand the partnership” between ESPN and Frontline on this investigative project. (Later in the panel, Bray said that ESPN tries not to show “gratuitous” footage of football’s hardest impacts as part of its highlights reels).
Kirk and Bray appeared on the panel with Fainaru and his journalist brother Mark Fainaru-Wada. Also on the panel: former New York Giants linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer Harry Carson, who appears in the documentary. Carson has been retired from football for a quarter century but says he was later diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
Carson said during his career no one knew about concussions but “looking back I can see clearly the damage, the players dealing with neurological issues. Looking back at the various clips, it’s there in plain sight.”
Knowing what he knows now, Carson said he doesn’t want his grandson to play football.