ESPN President John Skipper is rare in the executive world because he’s never afraid to honestly speak his mind. Instead of the exec speak that you might expect from someone like Bill Belichick, Skipper is a bit more willing to speak directly to the situations at hand.
One of those situations facing ESPN at the moment is the comments from League of Denial director Michael Kirk about the controversial split between ESPN and PBS over the concussion documentary. While accepting a Peabody Award for Frontline’s concussion reporting, Kirk took the opportunity to slam ESPN’s decision to exit the project, saying they “abandoned” PBS.
At a media day event in Bristol, Skipper fired back and slammed Kirk’s “whining.” Via Sports Business Journal:
“I don’t know why you would waste your moment of glory whining. I’m not sure what purpose is served by that. I didn’t appreciate it. They wouldn’t have been able to do it without us.”
“We fulfilled everything we suggested we would do. We took our name off of it because we didn’t control it. I don’t love that episode.”
“I’m sorry they feel abandoned. We had the Fainaru brothers on our air to talk about the book and the series.”
What’s really unfortunate in all of this is that ESPN and PBS were doing such great work together and now that is being overshadowed by the hard feelings between the two parties. The public comments from Kirk and Skipper take the attention away from people like the Fainarus and others who have led the way on concussion reporting. Skipper is right to an extent that ESPN has still done a lot on concussions (they also won a Peabody Award for their reporting), but again, their decision to pull out at the 11th hour gives the impression that they are unwilling to challenge their richest and most powerful league partner when it matters most.
The more this turns into a feud between ESPN and PBS over their League of Denial divorce, the more the spotlight shifts away from the actual subject of the reporting. And the NFL would be more than happy about that.