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Q/A with Andrea Kremer: Why NFL Network hired her to cover league’s most controversial issue: player safety

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.

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Posted on Oct. 15

The biggest threat to the future of the NFL is the repercussions of increasingly bigger players banging into each other at increasingly higher speeds.

Not to be a doom and gloomer, but if something truly catastrophic happens during a game, it will cause the country to re-examine this thing called football.

So it’s big news that the league-owned NFL Network just hired Andrea Kremer to cover the one issue that threatens the entire sport.

Sunday, Kremer made her debut on the network as the new “health and safety” correspondent. She did a story (here’s the link) on Oakland receiver Darrius Heywood-Bey, who recently had to be carted off the field after a concussion. Heywood-Bay talked openly about what happened, and Kremer’s interview with a doctor at Cleveland Clinic showed with graphics what happened to Bey’s brain. Sobering stuff, to be sure.

Kremer is an important hire for the league and the network. It begs many questions about the motives and how much she will be allowed to do.

A long-time reporter for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Kremer is one of the best in the business as an investigative journalist. Given the subject, her reports on “health and safety” could make things uncomfortable for the NFL and football, in general. She said her domain will span the entire spectrum, including youth programs.

Kremer also is anxious to learn some of the answers. Several times she used the phrase, “cautiously optimistic” about her work with NFL Network during an interview with her last week.

How did it come about?

The NFL Network decided they wanted to launch this unit covering health and safety issues. When I first heard about it, my skepticism oozes out from every fiber of my being. What? Why?

I talked to Mark Quenzel, (senior VP of programming and production). He says to me, ‘Look, we feel we need to do more substantive stories. And the key issue is health and safety.’

They are hiring my credibility, my reputation. I didn’t build that–put it in parentheses over 30 years–to have it reduced to propaganda. That’s not the way it is going to be.

My role isn’t to take anyone down. My role is to present the issues out there. We are not bereft of ideas.

What were behind your initial reservations?

You don’t want to be a mouthpiece for the NFL. There are a lot of issues that exist. I view this as trying to enlighten the audience about these issues in a deeper way. It’s that simple. There is a lot of stuff out there about concussions. What can we show differently about it? There is a lot of concern and misinformation about concussions.

This is like a managing editor position. My job is to generate content. We walked into a brain-storming meeting with 12 very smart people in the room. I have this huge file in my hand. I go, ‘You guys have been thinking about this for about 10 days. I’ve been thinking about this for about 20 years.’

When you talked to Quenzel, what did you say to him? What kind of assurances did you get?

There are never assurances for anything. There’s always good faith, but it’s not as if I had anything written in my contract. I know what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. It’s a fluid situation. We’re working on a case-by-case basis. I go back to what I said: ‘I didn’t spend my entire career building up my credentials to have it tossed out here.’

The best way to put it is that I’m cautiously optimistic. I have no reason to not think I won’t be able to bring a different level of programming and ideas to the network.

What kind of statement is NFL Network making by hiring you?

I give them a lot of credit. I know there are people there who said, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing by hiring her? Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?’ That was respectfully, not negatively. They said, ‘Yes, we do. If we’re going to be credible, taken seriously, this is what we need to do.’

I sense the network is fully aware that this is a huge issue. They have not fully dealt with it. They need to deal with it from a journalism perspective, and they will. But it’s definitely a learning curve for them.

Former players have filed lawsuits against the NFL. Will you be able to report on stories on an NFL-owned network when the league is a defendant?

I haven’t been told (she can’t). Dealing with the lawsuit would be no different than how the NFL Network–or quote-unquote–TV partners with the league dealt with the CBA, handled the refs, or other issues. You had plenty of people at the NFL Network pining about how poorly the refs were. The commentators have been very honest with their assessment.

That’s part of what’s going on. If there’s a former player we wanted to profile who had a number of significant issues, in my mind, as long as we go to somebody at the league or with the players association, if we can find that person to tell their side of the story, then we’ve presented both sides. Our job is to provide the audience with enough information to reach their own conclusion.

Are you concerned that people will view your reports through the prism of the NFL Network? As a result, people might not feel you are totally objective.

I learned through the Twitter universe there’s nothing I can do to mold people’s opinion if they have some agenda.

I can say this: Not only have I been given any indication of censorship, I’m sure not being given any special treatment. I’m not going to get people just because I work for the NFL Network. I’ve been trying to work on a story, and I’ve put in requests and I’ve been rebuffed.

I know how I’m going to approach my job. I know my comfort level; I know what my obligations are, and that’s what I’m going to adhere to.

You’re a top reporter. If you found a story that blew the doors off this issue, are you confident you would be able to run it on NFL Network?

It’s so hypothetical. Here’s all I can say: I’m going to try.  I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to do something that’s impactful.

 

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