Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stakeholder journalism bias, Pete Prisco edition

Is it just me, or did Pete Prisco's column on the $765 million concussion settlement with players read like an old NFL talking-points memo?

Prisco wrote that NFL players who sustained brain damage from the game shouldn't be compensated for their suffering because they knew what they were getting into when they agreed to play football. Of course, that doesn't mesh with the accusation that the league misled players about the danger of concussions. But that side of the lawsuit somehow wasn't mentioned in Prisco's column.

Look, if Prisco wants to announce to every player in the NFL that they get what they deserve for playing the game and shouldn't receive a dime in disability compensation, that's his prerogative. It's hard to believe players are going to have an ounce of respect for him after that column. But that's his choice.

Nor am I going to suggest Prisco might have brain damage, as Keith Olbermann did in his otherwise expert takedown of Prisco's relative indifference to the hardship and tragedy of former players like Junior Seau, who committed suicide like others who were found to really have brain damage.

I prefer to focus on the most obvious reason why Prisco would write such a conveniently dismissive, pro-NFL column about potentially thousands of irreparably damaged human beings:
CBS Sports has a multi-billion dollar contract to broadcast the NFL. And his job is to help support those CBS broadcasts. That makes Prisco part of the public relations machine that exists to promote the game (and maybe get fans to forget about culpability and horrific consequences for players while they're at it).

I've written more than once about the obvious conflict of interest that occurs when a journalist works for a company that has a financial stake in the success of a sport, and how that connection inevitably changes the tone of coverage. We've seen this again and again. It was just over a week ago that ESPN, which also has billions invested in NFL coverage, backed out of a collaboration with the much respected PBS show "Frontline" on a documentary about concussions.

Can we at least be open and honest about that conflict once and for all? How about running a disclaimer after those NFL columns that read like they came straight from a public relations rep (see Gregg Doyel's coverage of Ray Lewis here and here)?

We can use Prisco's own words from the concussion column to pen it. Here's what he wrote: "Without the NFL, I wouldn't have a job."

In the end, that's really all you need to know.

Seau photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Prisco logo via

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