Weekend wrap: Fainaru-Wada: ‘We are absolutely not out to get people to boycott football’; fallout from League of Denial

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports media:

League of Denial 1: Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru did a live chat at PBS.org Wednesday. It was moderated by Richard Deitsch of SI.com.

Mark Fainaru-Wada:
First and foremost, we were absolutely not out to get people to boycott football. Steve and I are both huge football fans — he has season tix to the 49ers — and we love the sport. I think our goal was simply to trace what the league knew, when it knew it and to what extent it sought to tamp down the emerging science. There’s no question the league has made strides on this issue since it was hauled before Congress in 2009, and we note that to some degree in the film, although the commissioner is still not openly acknowledging a link. I think our hope is that through the book and the film people will be more informed about the challenges the game faces and how it might deal with that. Again, though, it’s a violent, brutal sport, which is one of the things many of us love about it, and not sure that can/should be changed.

League of Denial 2: Richard Sandomir of the New York Times writes ESPN helped boost ratings and attention for the documentary.

ESPN’s pullout was a boon for “Frontline.” The attention paid to ESPN’s hasty decision made a lot of people aware of “League of Denial.” Had ESPN quietly accepted the collaboration ground rules with “Frontline” and told the N.F.L. that it would be a public relations error to pull out, many people might not have been alerted to the documentary.

League of Denial 3: Ken Fang at Awful Announcing has 9 most powerful moments from the PBS documentary.

Dr. Omalu publishes his findings in a medical journal. However, the league goes on the offensive to have the journal retract the article. The publication refuses. But the NFL continues to go after Omalu attacking his credentials and his research this despite having several noted neurologists co-author his paper. Dr. Omalu eventually finds evidence of CTE in a second ex-Steeler, Terry Long, and again publishes his findings. Just as it did before, the NFL attacks Omalu’s credibility. 

He eventually meets with an NFL doctor in private who tells him the implications of his reports could result in the end of football. During this time, the league denies any connection to brain injuries from playing football and publishes its own papers dispting Omalu’s claims saying the sport is safe. Disappointed, Dr. Omalu leaves Pittsburgh and moves to Lodi, California saying, “I wish I never met Mike Webster. You can’t go against the NFL. They’ll squash you.”

League of Denial 4: Patrick Hruby has five takeaways from the film:

2. The Big Tobacco analogy is apt: During a 2009 Congressional hearing on brain damage and football that’s referenced in the film, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) likened the NFL to the tobacco industry. It’s hard to argue the point. Confronted with a growing body of evidence indicating that their product was a public health risk — in a nutshell: Smoking cigarettes causes cancer — companies such as Phillip Morris did not move to self-regulate, warn consumers or otherwise act for the common good. Instead, they launched legal and public relations offensives designed to limit liability while muddling and obscuring the problem — or, as ESPN the Magazine writer Peter Keating puts it in “League of Denial,” to put off their “day of reckoning.”

On course golf reporters: Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing spent time with NBC’s walkers during last week’s Presidents Cup.

Maltbie reflected, “There’s been so many. Which one would I single out? I remember telling Tiger once you’re going to get me fired. And he said, how’s that? And I said, you’re going to hit one of those shots that only you can hit and I’m going to go ‘holy sh*t’ when the ball’s in the air and those will be my last two words on the air.”

Cal Ripken Jr.: Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News talked to Ripken about whether he will manage next year.

“Now Jim Bowden (the former Nationals general manager working for ESPN) is tweeting out that the Nationals are interested in me (to replace the retiring Davey Johnson), so this seems to have picked up some momentum,” Ripken said.

“I guess it is what it is. I’ve been pretty consistent with what I’ve said all along. In the past, talking to general managers from time to time, I get asked about it, and before, I wasn’t interested so it wasn’t proper to go through the process. Now that one kid is out of college and another is in college, I’m asked if I have the itch to get back, and working for TBS the last couple of years, getting back around the ballpark again in that environment, sure, I’d listen. But it’s just been a general statement.

 “My immediate focus is – I’m an inexperienced broadcaster who is cramming and reading and listening and watching, and I don’t have time to look up from that right now. That’s a lot to deal with.”

Fox Sports 1 guys: Richard Deitsch of SI.com does a Q/A with Fox Sports Live anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole.

SI.com: How do you view ESPN? Are they head-to-head competition or do you view them through another prism?

Jay Onrait: What’s funny for us is we went through this experience in Canada but exactly in opposite. We were working for the ESPN of Canada, and then 15 years ago a couple of new networks launched to challenge TSN. It was exactly the same thing. It’s like we are going through what those networks did, and it’s funny to be on the other side. This is obviously much more of a challenge, but, of course, they are our competition. It would do us no good to try to emulate anything they did. We have to do it our way and offer an alterative. We’ve been surprised how well it has gone over, at least in terms of the reaction on Twitter. We live in a day and age where people can tell you — good or bad — exactly what they think of you with one click of the button. You better have a strong sense of self to deal with it. We expected much more of a mixed reaction, but so far it has been really positive.

TBS praise: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth likes TBS’ pregame show for the playoffs.

But it isn’t. Most pregame and postgame shows play it safe, mostly because they’re staffed by former athletes who would rather remain friends with their former colleagues than enlighten or entertain the viewing audience. They say nothing by design. This is why most studio shows primarily consist of retired athletes pretending to laugh at each other’s jokes. There is nothing else they can do. Anything else they might say, they can’t.

Which is why this year’s TBS studio crew has been so refreshing, and so fun. I think it’s pretty obvious already that this is the best baseball studio crew in recent memory. They’re funny, they’re sharp, they’re happy to be critical, they’re even a little weird. While the actual telecasts of the games remain the disasters they’ve always been during TBS live broadcasts — TBS games apparently have only three cameras, and they’re operated by people who have a scorpion in their boots — the studio show has been an instant highlight. If all pregame and postgame shows were like this, we’d have a lot more annoyed athletes … and we’d have a lot more satisfied viewers.

Paul Finebaum: Bob Gillespie of The State does a profile of ESPN’s new hire.

Ask what he most eagerly anticipates, and a smile crosses Finebaum’s face. What, he asked back, is not to like?

“I’m 57, and at this point in life, it’s not like (another deal such as) this will come around again,” he said. “I was content to ride out (his career) where I was, but this is like opening a curtain: ‘Hey, would you like to work for the best sports network, covering the best (college) sports league?’ And I said, ‘Yes, when do I start?’ ”

Tyler Kepner: JeffPearlman.com does a Q/A with the New York Times baseball writer.

J.P.: I’ve known you for a long time now, and I’ve known of your, eh, feelings toward Alex Rodriguez for a long time now. It seems, however, of late you’ve been more willing to call him out as a fraud in print. Your language has grown stronger, your statements more pointed. Why? Is this age and experience? Is it the medium? And why do you have such strong feelings toward him?

T.K.: I really do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try be very conscious of every word I write—no cheap shots, no reason to unintentionally offend someone. I always want to be able to defend what I write, if the subject ever has a problem with it. And in Alex’s case, everything I’ve written is defensible. I’ve known him since we were both 23, in Seattle. And the things I’ve seen directly, and the stories I’ve heard from people in the game I deeply respect, allow me to write honestly about him, without holding back. A tough part about being a columnist, I’ve found, is that need to have an opinion when you see both sides of a story. But when you feel strongly about something, and you have lots of material to back it up, you owe it to your readers to be honest with them.

I also think I’ve built a reputation as a writer who is eminently fair and measured. I don’t go looking for a fight, and I like almost everyone I meet. I do enjoy watching Alex play, for the most part—his arm, his power—and he actually has a brilliant mind for the game. But what’s especially galling to me about him is that he has consistently tried to present himself as superior to everyone else, bigger than the game. It probably stems from insecurity, but it’s no excuse, and it’s nauseating. Also, he lies all the time—All. The. Time.—and I really think not enough people call him out on it.


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