Pressure from the NFL led to ESPN's decision Thursday to pull out of an investigative project with PBS's Frontline series about head injuries in the league, the New York Times reported Friday.
ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Co., pays the NFL more than $1 billion a year to broadcast Monday Night Football, a ratings juggernaut and cherished source of revenue for Disney.
Frontline, an award-winning public affairs series, and ESPN worked for 15 months on a two-part documentary, to be televised in October. But ESPN's role came under intense pressure from the league after a trailer for the documentary was released Aug. 6, the New York Times reported.
Four power players met last week near the league's Manhattan headquarters, the New York Times said: commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Network president Steve Bornstein, ESPN president John Skipper and John Wildhack, ESPN's executive vice president for production. At the meeting, league officials conveyed displeasure with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe a familiar narrative: the league turning a blind eye to evidence players were sustaining brain trauma that could lead to long-term cognitive disability, the newspaper said.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said ESPN requested the meeting several weeks ago and "at no time did we formally or informally ask them to divorce themselves from the project."
ESPN said it ended its association with Frontline because it didn't have editorial control of the series, not because it was concerned about hurting its relationship with the NFL.
Frontline's deputy executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath, said ESPN executives had for more than a year understood the ground rules of the collaboration.
Trade: The Steelers acquired running back Felix Jones from Philadelphia for linebacker Adrian Robinson. The deal was pending each player passing a physical. The Steelers are hurting at running back. Rookie Le'Veon Bell (sprained right foot) is out indefinitely. Isaac Redman has a nerve injury. Return specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling (sprained knee) sat out Monday's game against Washington.
Hernandez case: A cousin of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez pleaded not guilty to a contempt charge after being accused of refusing to testify before the grand jury that indicted Hernandez in a friend's killing. Tanya Singleton entered her plea in Fall River, Mass.
JETS: Receiver Santonio Holmes was activated from the physically -unable-to-perform list.
TEXANS: The league upheld defensive end Antonio Smith's three-game suspension for hitting Miami guard Richie Incognito with the Dolphins player's helmet, coach Gary Kubiak said.
Seahawks 17, Packers 10: Receiver Stephen Williams snatched a ball from cornerback Loyce Means for a 42-yard, go-ahead touchdown for the visiting Seahawks. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was 4-of-7 for 41 yards in his only series. Seattle's Russell Wilson threw for 126 yards and was picked off twice.