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Forbes: ESPN’s relationship with the NFL is becoming unnerving and edging on uncomfortable.

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Forbes ran a story two days ago, by Maury Brown, talking about ESPN’s relationship with the NFL and how it seems ESPN favors the NFL in every story and controversy, especially in the deflategate scandal.

Below are highlights from Maury Brown’s Forbes article, enjoy!

Forbes: “Maybe it’s all just a coincidence. Stranger things have happened. Given enough time and enough events, things just happen to align. After all, Walt Disney DIS +1.98%-owned ESPN is the biggest sports outlet, and the NFL is the most popular sport in America. Given enough news and enough stories, could ESPN simply appear to be favoring the NFL with biased stories, peddling misinformation, and making moves to protect the NFL?

I’m not the first to whisper these words.  And, given the amount of money that ESPN pays the NFL to air games, well, every story that favors the NFL as the league continues to be mired in controversy begs the question, is ESPN afraid to not only bite the hand that feeds, but is also pandering to them?

ESPN has oddly handled the controversial stories in the NFL, with the Ray Rice story being one.

But it’s the Deflategate matter that has really called into question whether ESPN has been carrying water for the NFL and Goodell. By now you’ve probably been made aware of the whole story of how Tom Brady had allegedly been involved in a scheme to deflate footballs. That originated with a story by ESPN insider Chris Mortensen that said 11 of 12 New England Patriots footballs were deflated below league standards as part of the AFC Championship game. But the problem is, when you look at emails between the Patriots and the NFL, you’ll find that the story was clearly a plant of misinformation and that the only source that would have had a reason to pass on the misinformation to Mortensen was the NFL. The whole case against Brady in the court of public opinion begins with that ESPN story. And while Mortensen said on the Dan Le Batard Show that he could have done a “better job vetting” the story, he backtracked saying of the story, the footballs were “significantly under inflated.” In fairness to Mortensen, he wasn’t the only one to take sourced information about the 11 of 12 footballs being under inflated and ran with it. Peter King of Sports Illustrated did likewise.  But the difference here is King went out on record as saying he was wrong.

ESPN has kept the pedal to the metal on Deflategate as the sordid matter has now wound its way into a Federal court. While judges are exceptionally hard to read in matters—especially when it comes to overturning arbitration rulings—most all following the meetings in court with the lawyers for the NFL, the NFLPA and Tom Brady  have seen things tilting. Judge Richard Berman of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on August 12 could only be described by the overwhelming majority of the media as “grilling” NFL lawyers over the process used to dole out Tom Brady’s suspension and Commissioner Goodell upholding the suspension on appeal. And yet, ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson didn’t take the path in the face of the stiff leaning by Berman and simply say that regardless of how one-sided the case may appear to be now looking to be in favor of Brady, the ruling might be up in the air. No, Munson went so far as to say that for all the figurative spankings that the NFL lawyers have been getting in Berman’s court, it’s all part of a plan to show that the NFL is actually highly favored to win the case.

Now, before ESPN jumps down my throat and screams that not all articles are biased in favor of the NFL, there has been the recent story by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada for ESPN the Magazine on the damages of head and neck injuries, “Why former 49er Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football.” After all, the two wrote League of Denial, the story of how the NFL has worked to covered up the damages of concussion in the sport. And that’s true. But, it’s but one story. And, it’s not running on SportsCenter.

Once again, maybe all of this is coincidence. Maybe this is all some Oliver Stone conspiracy theory. Maybe all these stories siding with the NFL, the feeding of misinformation,  the legal analyst going against the grain, maybe it’s all going to come out in the end as the truth and those like I will be the ones writing mea culpas. 


But here’s the thing: what you need ESPN to be is the clearest of lens, not clouded and a champion willing to take on big business. And make no mistake, the NFL is the biggest business in U.S. sports. The extension reached between the Worldwide Leader and the NFL in 2011 is for $1.9 billion a year, that’s four times the rate that CBS CBS +2.22%, FOX, and NBC pay. So, with ESPN filling their programming space with as much NFL as they can, would it be surprising if someone at the NFL called them and said, “Do you mind seeing if you can get your journalists to tone down the rhetoric against us a bit?” To my knowledge, no one has said as much. There are no emails or off-the-record stories making that case. But the relationship between the two presents a problem.

There’s nothing saying ESPN is sitting there with Goodell and is complicit in some grand scheme to become a mouthpiece for the NFL at every turn. What should be a real concern is that one day something like that could happen. That the relationship between a major league and media power broker will become so tight that they become nothing more than a PR arm of a league. Some may say that it’s already happened. I’m not willing to go there, mostly because the thought of it spells the beginning of the end for independent voices in the media. But what I am willing to say is the relationships are becoming unnerving and edging on uncomfortable. ESPN, prove me wrong.

ESPN declined to respond to a request for comment after the publication of this article.”

I didn’t post the entire article, but most of it, at least the parts that talk about the NFL and ESPN’s relationship, if you want to read the article in its entirely, and I recommend that you do, then go HERE. 

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