There’s been plenty of discussion about ESPN’s relationship with the NFL recently, with Bristol pulling out of the “League of Denial” documentary with PBS in 2013 and NFL pressure reportedly playing a role in the network’s decisions to part ways with Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann. The upcoming Concussion film with Will Smith (portraying Dr. Bennett Omalu, who played a key role in the discovery of CTE in former NFLers) has also driven discussion about how it will depict the NFL, and so you might think it’s something ESPN would avoid, given their desire not to anger that league. You’d be wrong. As The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ryan Parker writes, ESPN has decided to accept ads for the movie:

ESPN will run advertisements for Concussion.

Commercials for the controversial Will Smith movie about NFL players suffering from brain damage due to the violent blows they take, have been “accepted” at the network and will begin airing soon, a well-placed source told The Hollywood Reporter.

It is unclear if the spots will run during Monday Night Football or any other NFL-related programming. ESPN’s Monday Night Football deal — the richest among the league’s TV partners — extends through 2021 and is worth $15.2 billion to the NFL.

It’s fascinating that ESPN has disassociated itself from a lot of editorial content critical of the NFL (as the League of Denial decision certainly shows, and the Simmons and Olbermann moves may suggest; the NFL may not have been the only factor in either decision, but NFL pressure and possible scheduling retribution was cited as a factor by sources inside ESPN), but is still willing to take ads the NFL may not love. ESPN does still do some reporting and commentary critical of the NFL, including the Outside The Lines reports on the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy situations and the Fainarus’ work on concussions, but Simmons recently called their NFL coverage “embarrassing,” and some would undoubtedly agree with him. If they’re not going to go in hard on the editorial side, why would they do so on the business side?

Then again, ESPN’s tried to draw thin editorial-business distinctions before (see when they stopped daily fantasy-sponsored segments, but kept the ads), and Concussion may not actually be as hard on the NFL as an institution as one might expect. Perhaps this won’t be a big deal in the NFL’s eyes. It’s funny to see ESPN take a potentially-provocative risk with an ad rather than editorial content, though. Maybe this is just more proof that “there’s no ideology at ESPN beyond the bottom line.”

[The Hollywood Reporter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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