ESPN's NFL Coverage: Compromised?

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The question of whether ESPN, the network partnered with the NFL to the tune of $15 billion, can be counted on to cover bad news related to the league is not new.

In 2004, ESPN cancelled a fictional series called "Playmakers," which portrayed pro football as raunchy and not entirely devoid of drugs, because the NFL was offended by it. ESPN's executive vice president explained that the network was not "in the business of antagonizing our partner."

In a statement published Tuesday, ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte defended ESPN's recent coverage of domestic violence and child abuse. He seemed to be suggesting that recently times had changed, because he referenced the network's decision in 2013 to withdraw its imprimatur from "League of Denial," the documentary that indicted the NFL for suppressing evidence of the connection between football-related concussions and brain damage among former players. Awkward? Well, yes. ESPN employees had written the documentary and the excellent book of the same title.

But in his final paragraph, Lipsyte congratulated this "muscular, thoughtful, and hard-driving generation of ESPN journalists."

The next day, ESPN suspended one of its employees for calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar. With that charge, Bill Simmons was only stating with more profane adjectives what lots of writers, commentators and fans have concluded: That Goodell has been coming up 80 yards short of candor since the story of Ray Rice's assault on Janay Palmer Rice first broke.

Perhaps the real problem for Simmons was that he invited the network to tell him he was in trouble for what he was saying and threatened to "go public" if it did.

Is it ever a good plan to invite your employer to fire you unless what you really want to do is quit?

Whatever else the suspension of Simmons means, it demonstrates that impugning the integrity of the big money partner of your big money employer is still a big risk if you work for ESPN.

This segment aired on September 27, 2014.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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