In a move that raises fresh questions about the National Football League’s willingness to confront the dangers of head injuries, ESPN abruptly cut ties with PBS’s Frontline over a two-hour documentary about football concussions scheduled to air in October. The New York Times reported that the league pressured ESPN, which airs “Monday Night Football,” to end the 15-month-old collaboration, which included a companion website that tracks players’ concussions. Just last Sunday, the team aired a segment on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that cast a harsh spotlight on Dr. Elliot Pellman, the former head of the NFL’s concussion committee, who allegedly dismissed early studies linking football to degenerative brain disease.
ESPN said it backed out because it did not have editorial control over what would appear on Frontline, which is produced by WGBH Boston. That’s a strange decision, since Frontline is the most respected documentary series in TV journalism, and the lead reporters on this project — former Globe and Washington Post writer Steve Fainaru and his brother, former San Francisco Chronicle writer Mark Fainaru-Wada — are among sports journalism’s most honored investigators.