Media roundup: ESPN, WGBH team up to track concussion data

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The issue of head trauma and the long-term repercussions on football players has been a hot topic for some time now. At present some nearly 4,000 former players are suing the NFL over the link between football and long-term brain damage as a result of concussions and head trauma.

PBSs FRONTLINE, which is produced by WGBH here in Boston, and ESPNs Outside the Lines have launched a joint project to investigate the ongoing story of concussions in the National Football League.

"FRONTLINE has been distinguished by high-quality investigative reporting for many years," said Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president and director of news. "For ESPN and Outside The Lines to partner with the unit on such an important story, and to bring two of our strongest enterprise reporters to the effort, is a rare opportunity, and we believe it will result in some ground-breaking work."

FRONTLINE Deputy Executive Producer Raney Aronson is equally enthusiastic about working with ESPN. "ESPN is a terrific partner for this investigation, she said, adding "They bring unmatched knowledge and experience examining the defining questions in American sports."

This year-long project will be led by ESPN reporters (and brothers) Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, and FRONTLINE producers Tom Jennings and Sabrina Shankman, who will examine the latest research on brain injuries and football, the impact on players, and the NFLs effort to deal with a crisis that may significantly impact its future.

Steve Fainaru spent 11 years here working for the Boston Globe, where he spent some of that time covering the Red Sox. His brother Mark is known for his work at the San Francisco Chronicle where he uncovered the BALCO scandal and co-authored will Lance Williams the best-selling book Game of Shadows.

The current project includes a web site that was launched on Thursday - Concussion Watch (link at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/concussion-watch/ ). This is an online public database tracking every confirmed concussion identified by NFL injury reports this season. In addition, fans are encouraged to report big hits and possible concussions by filling out a form that will be shared in a private tips database. The tip form is available on the Concussion Watch website.

Viewers can also submit tips for follow up via Twitter by providing the season week number and the name of the player hit via "#ConcussionWatch," the official hashtag for the project. The tips will be used for further reporting and, if verified, may be added to the Concussion Watch database.

The data is comprehensive. You can sort out concussions by week, by team, by opponent or by position. Click on a player, and you will see how he was reported on the injury report in the weeks following the injury and whether he played.

Research into the subject has already resulted in a November 16 segment on ESPNs Outside the Lines focusing on late Hall of Famer, Mike Webster. The former Pittsburgh Steelers center was the first NFL player officially diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy or football brain disease. The joint investigation has also reported that that years before the NFL publicly acknowledged a connection between football and long-term mental disease, the NFLs disability board was quietly paying more than a million dollars in benefits to several players with brain-related illnesses.

The project will culminate with a full-length FRONTLINE documentary produced by Jennings in time to launch the fall season of FRONTLINE on PBS in 2013.

In addition in fall 2013, Crown Archetype, a division of Random House Inc., is scheduled to publish an as of yet untitled book on the topic written by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada.

Bruce Allen is a Media Columnist for SB Nation Boston. Twitter: @BruceAllen.

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