Documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon violated the trust of his close friend and subject Steve Gleason when Pamphilon released the audio recording of Gregg Williams addressing his team before the Saints' playoff game in San Francisco this past season.
The easy conclusion is that Pamphilon took advantage of a dying man. That he was only seeking publicity for his film. We don't believe there are any easy conclusions in a complicated issue full of gray, not black and white.
When Pamphilon decided to go public with the tape, he knew that he was jeopardizing the chances of even releasing his film. Johnette Howard of ESPN.com spoke to Pamphilon this week. At this point, Gleason and Pamphilon haven't ruled out finishing the film together. The two sides are only talking through intermediaries.
We recommend reading Howard's nuanced column. Right or wrong, we believe that Pamphilon released the audio because it's an issue he feels passionately about. The publicity isn't worth it. It may only hurt him.
"Did anyone ever think somebody just wants to do the right thing?" Pamphilon says.
That may be oversimplifying the matter, but this is a man who is making a separate documentary about the dangers of football culture. It's someone who was one of Gleason's closest friends and was trying to shine light on Gleason's incredible story.
"Before this, people knew bounties existed," Pamphilon said. "But nobody knew what a bounty actually sounded like. How disgusting it is.
"But what happened instead is most of that was swallowed up. The dialogue has shifted to 'Filmmaker betrays dying man.' And how do you defend yourself against a man who you love, when almost everyone says you betrayed him, and it's destroying your reputation? I mean, I love this guy. I love this guy. . . .
"It is very difficult trying to defend yourself in public against a man who has a terminal disease" because the irony is, "I treated Steve like he was living. Not like he was dying. I met him not as the person he was before [ALS or the NFL] and I see him as a man living in a very glorious way. I see him as a fighter. I haven't seen Steve as dying. I've always seen him as a man gracefully living."
Pamphilon made it more difficult for his friend to gracefully live by releasing the audio. But we hope that it doesn't mean Gleason's film will be shelved. It's a story worth hearing.