SBD/October 8, 2013/Media

"League Of Denial" Doc A "Methodical, Sedate Assault" On Concussion Issues

Billed as the "hidden story" of the NFL and concussions, Frontline's "League of Denial" investigation offers "no jaw-dropping revelations," according to Nathan Fenno of the WASHINGTON TIMES. The program, which debuts tonight at 9:00pm ET on PBS, is a "methodical, sedate assault of uncomfortable fact after uncomfortable fact that sends an unmistakeable message to those unfamiliar with the crisis or unwilling to engage. This matters." Each minute of the film builds a picture of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell "that couldn’t be less flattering." The children and widows of men "whose minds and lives unraveled" from concussions in the league are the "most powerful part of the two-hour film, the tear-stained reality of losing your father or husband before he’s actually dead" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/7). In Denver, Dusty Saunders wrote it is "engrossing," and examines the "troublesome path followed by the league in detailing the problem that has affected numerous former players" (DENVER POST, 10/7).

COMPARE & CONTRAST: In Houston, David Barron wrote if late NFL Films President Steve Sabol's '66 film "They Call it Pro Football" is the "Citizen Kane" of football movies, "League of Denial" "could be its 'And the Band Played On,' the 1990s film on the early days of the AIDS epidemic" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/7). VARIETY's Brian Lowry wrote the program creates an "image that persuasively links big money and exploitation, not that such revelations will deter the sport’s devotees in either instance." It "methodically builds a compelling case." Lowry: "How bad does 'League of Denial' look for the NFL? Put it this way: Whenever you are compared with Big Tobacco in the 1960s, your PR department has every reason to be concerned" (VARIETY.com, 10/6). In Columbus, Michael Arace writes what the documentary "does well is put the story of CTE into a cohesive narrative." Arace: "What it does best is describe how the NFL fits in this narrative. The tone is like 'Barbarians at the Gate'" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/8). In S.F., Scott Ostler writes the documentary and the book on which it is based "show that for NFL leaders, delusion was not the diagnosis, it was the goal" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/8). In N.Y., Neil Genzlinger writes the film will "certainly be eye-opening for anyone -- especially parents with children of Pop Warner league age -- who hasn’t followed the subject closely." Genzlinger: "Eye-opening, but at the same time oddly unsurprising" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/8).

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS: THE MMQB's Peter King conducted a Q&A with ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, whose book served as a basis for the film. King asked, "What was your reaction when ESPN suddenly parted with PBS on the documentary?" Fainaru said, "We were as surprised as everybody. We got a call from our editors telling us that this decision had been made to pull out of the partnership. A lot of it didn't really make much sense to us. ... I mean, Mark and I were both obviously disappointed, particularly with the implication that the NFL got involved and put pressure on the network. But I think our position has been that the journalism piece did not change." Fainaru-Wada said, "It was really frustrating for us because we had a phenomenal relationship with Frontline for those 15 months and produced a lot of stuff we were really proud of." King asked, "Do you believe the NFL told your bosses to lay off?" Fainaru said, "I don't think we know. I don't think either of us would be surprised at all, because they never cooperated; they wouldn't make anyone available for either the book or the film" (MMQB.SI.com, 10/7). The brothers said that the "goal of their reporting was to inform people about concussions, not advocate for the end of football." Fainaru said, "There are a lot of great things about football. ... But I do think we've laid out in a 400-page book with a lot of evidence that this is a real problem" (USA TODAY, 10/8).

PRODUCT PLACEMENT: ESPN’s “PTI” had a copy of the book in the background between hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon during yesterday’s episode. The book only stayed up until the first commercial break and was taken down after that (THE DAILY).
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