The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Great Piece. You’re Fired.

Howard Beale was killed over ratings, 1976 (MGM)
Howard Beale was also killed over ratings, 1976 (MGM)


The switchboard lighting up can be a good thing or a bad thing. And if no one watched the recent PBS Frontline – ESPN OTL joint investigative report focusing on the concussions, it’d probably still be on TV.

Since it began airing hard-hitting NFL concussion stories, ESPN decided to demote OTL to ESPN 2 and move it an hour earlier to 8am on Sunday. Now it looks like they decided to fix the glitch. Just don’t air hard-hitting concussion pieces that question the NFL’s integrity. Apparently Disney literally pulled the plug on ESPN’s joint project with PBS Frontline just as the joint was getting some legs. According to news pieces, PBS did the editorial work and put the story on their website, while ESPN provided the TV talent, most notably Bob Ley, and put it on TV and also on the ESPN OTL website. Ley is one of the two original 1979 ESPN anchors still at ESPN. The other is the guy with the sound effects, *Whoop! Whoop! Key?, Chris “Boomer” Berman. So where on television does an investigative journalism project fit that might ask a few questions about the NFL owners’ commitment to their employees’ health?  Well, not on ESPN. And not on HBO’s Real Sports anymore either. Remember when Andrea Kremer got that well-publicized admission out of Brian Urlacher that he would limp off the field if he got his bell rung so medical staff wouldn’t sideline him over a concussion. Well, that was Kremer’s last piece of concussion work for HBO. Now she gets paid to not do stories for the NFL Network not covering health and safety issues. Who knows, maybe she does something at the NFL, but nothing like her powerful work at HBO with Bryant Gumbel. What about NBC? You kidding? Collinsworth still says “dinged” and believes football taught him how to be a man. ABC? Disney owns it. Fox? Yeah sure, that’s Rupert’s agenda. CBS? Walter Cronkite’s dead and Mike Wallace doesn’t feel so good himself. The revolution will not be televised.

Seems like when it comes to NFL concussions, all it takes to knock a project off of the air, or off of the front page is a little success. ESPN, Kremer, New York Times writer Alan Schwarz and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. At one time Schwarz and King were blowing up the thing when nobody was listening. Now Schwarz is working on kids and drugs and Peter King’s blowing pixels on Tom Brady. At one time, even the NFL’s chief scientist-for-hire, Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz did important and insightful concussion research. Today he can be heard at your local football related concussion conference announcing the inevitable result of no-tackle Pee Wee Football (childhood obesity) and the game changing benefits of proper tacking technique. Who knew that a piece featuring an odd scoop about the NFL’s 72 year-old former commissioner, a Long Island rheumatologist and their joint science project would knock concussions off of ESPN.  Also an integral part of the project are the ESPN brother writers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Warda. They’re working on a book and a film about concussions, but are listed as staffers for ESPN. Time will tell. Perhaps the brothers will be introduced by Roger Goodell as co-chairs for the newly created NFL Committee on Investigative Sports Reporting.

Maybe too many media outlets picked up the story. Twitter was lit up with links and perhaps people even found the OTL website and watched the video and read the story. Only ESPN knows how many new people finally took interest in the NFL concussion litigation based on their piece. So why only four days later would ESPN pull the plug on their relationship with PBS Frontline just when the project was beginning to get in some effective jabs? Like Howard Beale in the movie Network, perhaps it was killed over ratings. Only in this case, good ones.


*Whoop!Whoop!Key? is a reference to Chris Berman’s awful “Fastest 3 Minutes” of NFL highlights where he sped up clips of great runs and jammed a ton of edited highlights into 3 frustrating minutes. He would sprinkle it with bizarre audible chirps and when the whole rushed thing was done, Swami would toss it to Keyshawn Johnson. Whew.  It was pretty much the opposite of the beautiful and poetic, slow motion NFL Films highlights narrated by legendary NFL voice-over John Facenda.




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