A lawsuit filed earlier this week by former NFL Network reporter Jim Trotter that alleges Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula made racist comments also contains claims about an issue that has already been up for debate: the league’s handling of the circumstances surrounding Damar Hamlin.
To recap, after Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and was treated and removed from the field during a January 2 Monday Night Football game between the Bills and Bengals in Cincinnati, ESPN announcer Joe Buck repeatedly said that the NFL had given word to the two teams that they would have five minutes to warm up before resuming play. That did not happen and, after some confusion, the game was canceled and never made up, leaving Cincinnati and Buffalo with only 16 games played last season.
In the immediate aftermath of the game’s cancellation, the NFL staunchly denied that it ever had any intention of the contest resuming play, even though that’s understandably what the league would have wanted. As the saying goes, the show must go on. Still, NFL Executive VP of Communications Troy Vincent rejected the notion the league gave players a five-minute warning.
“Frankly, there was no time period for the players to get warmed up,” he said at the time. “It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. And that’s not a place that we should ever be in.”
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In his lawsuit, Trotter alleges the NFL clamped down on his reporting about what happened during Bills-Bengals and that the league “throttles content that is critical of the NFL.” (No surprises there.)
Per the suit, Trotter’s reporting confirmed that the NFL did tell teams that play would resume following a five-minute warm-up but he was threatened that his supervisor would be informed if he continued to delve into the matter, and was then told to “stand down.” According to Trotter, further requests for info were ignored.
“This entire incident makes it very clear that the NFL controls NFL Media, throttles content that is critical of the NFL and will not hesitate to silence employees who speak out regarding matters that are unfavorable to the league,” the complaint alleges. “While in this case, the matter involved the NFL’s handling of a sensitive incident involving a player injury, it was consistent with the resistance Mr. Trotter faced when speaking up regarding discrimination.”
While it is no surprise that reporters for the league-owned NFL Network are only allowed to report what the NFL sees fit, it’s a bit concerning how sensitive the league is about itself. If the NFL wouldn’t allow Trotter to report honestly about the five-minute allegation, is there any doubt the league would cover up the allegations regarding Jones and Pegula.
Expect to hear absolutely nothing about this lawsuit during coverage of Thursday Night Football tonight.