Commentary

Can Networks Be Journalistically Accountable To Their Sports Franchises?

Do big sports franchises have some say over how their TV networks view them? The New York Timessays the NFL put pressure on ESPN to abandon a co-production title on a PBS “Frontline” special report about the health of NFL players.

Whether or not that’s true, ESPN shows like “Outside the Lines” have covered the subject of concussions and their long-term effects on players. So the network hasn’t shied away from controversy.

We don’t know the specifics of what the “Frontline” report has uncovered.  Maybe there is more damaging evidence against the league concerning the health of its players.

We do know that big advertising dollars are at stake when it comes to all networks that air NFL games.

So you can imagine , that networks are protective of their big asset. About a year ago, Toyota aired a commercial with the intent of helping out the NFL. It talked about how Toyota technology that deals with car crashes could help the league’s problem with colliding players. The NFL didn’t like it, according to reports, and the commercial was quickly off the air.

ESPN denies the NFL put pressure on it to pull out of the Frontline newscast.

From all this, one may wonder about other networks that cover other seemingly damaging sports like boxing. Do HBO and Showtime have concerns about head injuries? Do they do investigative stories that could damage the sport?

Still, since ESPN not only airs NFL games, but also airs investigative sports stories on “SportsCenter” and “Outside The Lines,” why would the NFL be putting the stop on the network only now?

In theory, separation between church and state still holds in many media outlets.

That didn’t help CBS’ CNET when it wanted to give high marks to Dish’s Hopper set top box. CBS corporate executives put a kibosh on that because CBS was in litigation with Dish over its AutoHop function, which can facilitate mass commercial skipping.

It was a wrong move for anyone wanting to show real separation between business and journalism.  If ESPN has done the same vis a vis the NFL, that would also be wrong.

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