Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated spoke with Mark Quenzel, NFL Network Senior Vice President of programming and production. In a quote that suggests it was considered, Quenzel states that “We decided not to fire Warren.” No indication was given whether Sapp will face any other form of discipline for his remarks about Jeremy Shockey being the “snitch” regarding the bounties.
Quenzel goes on to draw a distinction between Warren being an analyst and not a reporter, and how in the future he will know to follow protocol before reporting information. This misses the point. Any issue with Warren Sapp’s statements have zero to do with whether he is primarily paid to analyze or report news, or followed reporting protocol.
There are two issues with Sapp’s statements. First, the NFL Network, though legally a separate entity from the NFL, has more of an imprimatur than if these statements came from a local New Orleans sports reporter. The NFL just handed down punishment regarding a bounty program, and what may have been multiple “whistleblowers”. An agent of the network went public with who he believed was responsible, referring to the “snitch”. It is not a good look to have the NFL Network blowing the whistle on the “snitches”, even if truth is a defense.
Second, it is defamation (libel in regard to the tweet in written form, slander in regard to on air statements [update: because statements on air are recorded, they also fall under libel]) if not true. That he is an analyst and not a reporter has nothing to do with this issue at all. Truth is, of course, a defense to such a claim. If Shockey had nothing to do with it, as he claims, then he may have a claim regardless of Sapp’s job designation.
Deitsch also spoke with Michael McCann of SI, a law professor who also writes for the publication. McCann said that Shockey could have a retribution claim under federal labor law.
“But there are factors that may limit the likelihood of his complaint succeeding. Namely, Sapp is not an employee of the NFL. . . . I think it’s a crucial point that the network did not conduct the bounty investigation, and therefore Shockey, if he is the whistleblower, never whistle-blowed to the network. Shockey could argue the NFL Network is a mouthpiece for the NFL and thus the distinction I’m raising is one without real meaning, but I’m sure the NFL and NFL Network could show they are not only legally separate entities but also distinguishable through their business practices.”
Legally, McCann’s position on the distinction between the NFL and the NFL Network is correct. Practically, it looks really bad to have a public figure who does work (whether as an independent contractor or not) for the “NFL Network” make public statements about knowing who the snitch is. If Jeremy Shockey had nothing to do with the bounty investigation, then Sapp just opened them up to potential liability (Shockey has already come out and said he wants Sapp punished).
Frankly, I’m surprised that the NFL Network is standing by their “independent contractor” here, when this one isn’t over and may just be getting started depending on how Jeremy Shockey reacts now.