The NFL Will Feel The Streisand Effect After Pressuring ESPN To Pull Out Of Frontline Documentary

from the personal-foul,-silencing-critics dept

It never ceases to amaze me how businesses just can’t seem to understand the Streisand Effect, or its sister phenomenon, the cover up is always worse than the crime. Whether it’s small groups like a bunch of straight pride people that seek to silence what was essentially their own strange words, hugely famous celebrities, members of Congress, or even major television networks, the hits keep on coming.

But my ears perk up particularly when an otherwise massively successful company who should know better feels the Streisand slap down. Take the NFL for instance, which is currently suffering under reports that it pressured ESPN to pull out of a partnership in a PBS Frontline documentary on how the NFL has turned a blind eye to players suffering concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. According to all parties, it started out so well.

“[PBS’s] Aronson-Rath said that until last Friday, there had been no hint of trouble between “Frontline” and ESPN. She said that “Frontline” had worked “in lock step” with Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news, and Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer in ESPN’s news-gathering unit.”
So, what happened on that Friday that caused ESPN to suddenly pull out of the partnership, which would have resulted in shared profits from the documentary? Well, during the previous week, the NFL hosted a meeting with ESPN’s President John Skipper that has been described as “combative.” The NFL, which is currently facing a class-action lawsuit from thousands of former players over the way it dealt with head-trauma and related injuries, is obviously not pleased about the documentary. Roger Goodell, league commissioner, was reportedly particularly upset that ESPN was working on the film in conjunction with its filmmakers. While Greg Aiello, NFL spokesman, insists that they did not ask ESPN to pull out of the project, it’s rather easy to connect the dots when ESPN did just that almost immediately after the meeting and without any discernible business reason.

And discernible business reason other than ESPN pays the NFL roughly $1 billion to broadcast the wildly successful Monday Night Football, an absolute cash cow for the Disney-owned station. In other words, the NFL told ESPN to bail on the project and they complied. Why? Because ESPN isn’t in the journalism business. Despite what they’d like you to think, they’re a marketing company, with any faux journalism done strictly to build up their televised sports products. That’s fine for them, but there’s a problem for the NFL.

That problem is that this story is now everywhere. Deadspin, the NY Times, all over the place. What was once a PBS documentary that might have been lightly covered by ESPN (though not too much, since it doesn’t hurt its own programming that way) has now been driven into the public discourse in typical Streisand-fashion. And, as always seems the case, everyone gets smeared except the actual documentary they want to silence. The NFL looks both meddlesome and as if it has something to hide, ESPN is all the more revealed to be a non-journalistic enterprise, rather than the journalistic one it pretends to be, and the Frontline documentary is getting a ton of attention.

Bang up job of keeping quiet how violent football is, NFL guys!

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  • icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 23 Aug 2013 @ 11:43am

    Here's a good article from Men's Journal (which can only be found on the internet archive) about the very sick and twisted way the NFL treats its players.

    It's a good read, but you'll probably never watch the NFL the same way again. ualtiesoftheNFL.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 23 Aug 2013 @ 11:46am

    perhaps NFL should have consulted with experts

    If the NFL is interested in guiding public perception over attempts to cover up health-related links, maybe they should have gotten advice from the tobacco industry. Then again, this behavior suggests that they might have done just that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brad, 23 Aug 2013 @ 12:15pm

    Minor error in an otherwise spot on article...

    The second to last sentence reads a bit funny. ESPN is not pretending to be a "non-journalistic" enterprise. They are pretending to be a journalistic enterprise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 12:15pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 12:25pm

    What's next? The NFL pressuring ABC to not run any stories about it, since ESPN is affiliated with ABC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymister, 23 Aug 2013 @ 1:07pm


      I assume you are joking and referring to the section at the end of the NYtimes article that begins with:
      Disney’s hand has reached into the news operations of ESPN and its broadcast network ABC before, often in ways that are subtle but visible to viewers.
      I personally do not find the disclaimer of potential bias found in news shows, such as "Disney is the parent company of ABC News", to be strong enough to cover fake-news advertisements and live-reads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 12:39pm

    One of the many things I now longer consider important in my life is pro football. Since I no longer watch tv, I have no news on such and I'm far happier in not dealing with all these commercials.

    It's already insane the amount of money generated by pro ball. Pissing matches over millions and above are not going to uncommon. What is uncommon is the lengths they will go to protect their turf.

    I'm just one non-viewer. Now with the net if I so desired I am sure I could sniff down places that would allow me to see it but it just doesn't hold that much importance to me. I value the b/w more than these money making spectaculars that are pretty much the modern day equivalent to gladiator games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AndrewLee, 23 Aug 2013 @ 12:45pm


    It's called being a glutton for punishment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 1:29pm

    Now how would that talk go to get ESPN to stop taking part in that documentary go? Perhaps something like this.

    NFL: You need to drop your part in that documentary that makes us look bad right now.
    ESPN: Why should we?
    NFL: Because otherwise we'll stop taking your 1 billion dollars a year and won't let you air NFL games.
    ESPN: Oh no! If we stop giving you a billion dollars a year our business will be ruined! But you'll obviously still be just fine despite the billion dollar loss!
    NFL: That's right, so what are you going to do?
    ESPN: Ok, we'll stop our support for the documentary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DCX2, 23 Aug 2013 @ 1:30pm

    The NFL is bad...high school is worse

    At least the NFL players are adults who are officially responsible for their own well-being and they're making millions of dollars in exchange for the damage being done to them.

    What of the poor high school athletes, too young to understand the life-long consequences they will suffer as a result of playing football?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 1:44pm

    This is nothing compared to how bad NHL "enforcers" are treated, those players are paid less than a million to take bare knuckle punches directly to the face and head on almost a nightly basis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 23 Aug 2013 @ 5:16pm


    I don't watch american football out of the major team sports. It's such a weird game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    George Visger, 25 Aug 2013 @ 11:14pm

    The NFL Will Feel The Streisand Effect

    Come on Tim,
    You act like the NFL has something to hide regarding head injuries. What do you think? There's former NFL players running around with 9 brain surgeries, 32 years of gran mal seizures, no NFL benefits and had to sue for Work Comp????

    Sorry. I forgot, that's me.

    ESPN OUTSIDE THE LINES: The Damage Done 020813

    KVIE Channel 6 Sidelined: Concussions In Sports 12/19/12

    Channel 13 News Sacramento 10/29/12 Terry Tuatolo interview

    Geo rge Visger
    Wildlife Biologist/Traumatic Brain Injury Consultant
    The Visger Group

    SF 49ers 80 & 81
    Survivor of 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries
    Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    gyffes, 26 Aug 2013 @ 6:51am

    Thanks for the link, Fish

    but I've not watched the NFL the same way since Goodell took over. He's just too ham-handed in every conceivable way.

    Anyone concerned about the state of labor unions should be appalled at how Roger et al use their monopoly to bully their laborers. (yeah yeah, many are millionaires, but it doesn't make their treatment at the hands of their "owners" less reprehensible).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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