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‘Football at a Crossroads’ series takes thorough look at the game

The “Football at a Crossroads” project will take a wide-ranging look at the sport. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth/ESPN)

Yesterday, ESPN unveiled plans for a comprehensive six-day series, “Football at a Crossroads,” which begins Friday.

With more than 20 different stories and 50 writers, reporters, producers and staff involved in the multi-platform project, ESPN takes a long, hard look at the many facets of the dangers of participating in football at all levels.

Front Row discussed the series with the senior coordinating producer of ESPN’s Enterprise Unit, Dwayne Bray.

How did the idea for “Football at a Crossroads” come about?
We started talking about doing something like this back in March – even before Junior Seau’s death, which obviously brought the effect of concussions into the national spotlight again. It could be the biggest story in sports right now.

But it’s important to understand this series isn’t just about concussions. It looks at the safety issues inherent in football. Concussions get most of the publicity because of the lawsuits, but this is about how safe the game as a whole is going forward. We have done, and will continue to do, stories of this type.

What determined the stories your team would pursue?
We wanted to examine the most important issues and we wanted to be looking forward as much as we could. You have to look back to some degree, but we were focused on taking an objective, critical, deep dive into the relevant topics.

The NFL is under the microscope these days, but these stories aren’t just about the NFL. Can you explain why?
The future of the NFL is the young men playing the game now at youth and high school levels. Everybody knows the NFL will not be successful in the future if parents are keeping their sons from playing football. So we wanted to be sure to look at the game at those levels as well. I will say we found that participation isn’t dropping off, but parents are asking more and better questions.

What surprised you about the stories now that you’ve read, heard and seen them?
A lot actually, I learned a lot personally. I had no idea how brutal some of the semi-pro leagues are. In the poll we did with NFL players, 80 percent said they’d rather take a hit to the head than one to the knee. Think about that.

Is there a takeaway from this for you?
This is a very important issue and a very important discussion to have. It’s going to be with us for many months and even years to come.

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