It was a regular Wednesday afternoon: As news would first break about the Denver Broncos agreeing to trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, an NFL Network analyst informed his thousands of Twitter followers that he “just heard who the snitch was” in the New Orleans Saints Bountygate scandal. You know, just a typical Wednesday afternoon.
And when Warren Sapp retweeted one follower’s guess that it was Jeremy Shockey and attached it with “BINGO!”, that immediately drew the ire of Shockey, who replied, “My ass! I don’t even play defense! Haha.” To which Sapp would reply, “That’s not the issue!”
Actually, the issue would eventually be whether or not the former defensive tackle, who won his lone Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers in 2003 (mind you, the final time the big game would be played in January) has the wherewithal to break stories, like his colleagues such as Jason LaCanfora, Steve Wyche, and yes, even the recently punked-by-a-fraudulent-Tim-Tebow-on-Twitter Michael Lombardi.
Ever since the allegation by Sapp that Shockey, the former Saints tight end who spent the previous season with the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers and is currently a free agent, was the whistleblower on the Saints’ bounty system that this week resulted in the suspension of coach Sean Payton for the upcoming season, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for perhaps longer (Williams was deemed the mastermind of bounty systems in place on the Saints and allegedly on previous teams he had worked for), Shockey, despite affirming to Sapp that “I don’t even play defense,” was very much on the defensive, and rightly so. He immediately requested that NFL Network fire, if not suspend, Sapp, or at least fine him, just like the NFL does “if I say something about officials.”
There’s one loophole, though: While Sapp has been appearing on NFL Network for four years, he’s not officially an employee of the network, but rather, an independent contractor. So while NFL Network senior VP of programming and production Mark Quenzel confirmed that they would not be killing the on-air job of the person nicknamed “QB Killa,” he made it clear that they were not going to let him off easy.
“Warren went into an area where he is not an expert,” said Quenzel. “He did not follow the news-gathering procedures that we have.”
On Wednesday, moments after Sapp tweeted that Shockey was the “snitch,” Rich Eisen invited him on the air (they had broken into regularly scheduled programming all day long as the Tim Tebow trade was in the process of being confirmed) to discuss the information he received. Sapp would attribute “my source that was close to the situation” who provided him the alleged Shockey bombshell. Quinzel said that Sapp’s violation of NFL Network’s “news-gathering procedure” took much more precedence over “who the source is, how he got it, where he got it, or whether he believes it or not.”
“He used his personal Twitter account to report this,” Quenzel said. “He did not use the protocols and procedures that we put into place that all our reporters and… our newsgathering group uses to make sure we responsibly report the news.”
And Shockey is leaving no stone unturned in attempting to clear his name. On Thursday, he shared a screenshot of a cell phone conversation with who appears to be his former coach. “Sapp is saying I was the rat,” Shockey texted Payton. “WTF? You know me, and you know this is media bullshit.”
“I know you had nothing to do with that stuff Sap [sic] said,” Payton replied. (Yes, he apparently missppelled Sapp’s name – though as a public service, I converted the shorthand text terms like “u” to actual English for your convenience.)
Shockey is also mulling a lawsuit against Sapp. Such a case could be won on either side: Shockey, with his obvious libel claim, has the advantage, especially if it can be proven if he did not “snitch” about the Saints’ bounty system. Sapp, while he passed the allegation through his Twitter account, redirected the information from his “source”. In fact, it was a follower who replied to his initial “Just heard who the snitch was” tweet that provoked Sapp to divulge what he “heard” – note that he hasn’t specifically written Shockey’s name in a tweet on his own regarding Bountygate. Further, Quenzel stressed that it was tweeted on Sapp’s personal Twitter account, “not on NFL Network or any platform related to NFL Media. I don’t consider it to be an NFL Network report.”
Incidentally, it appears that, like Shockey, NFL Network is wishing that this whole Sapp/Shockey spat never happened. There was a video on NFL.com’s website of Eisen’s impromptu interview with Sapp on the tip he received from his “source”, but if you click on the link, you’re greeted with a “page not found” message. Hmmm.
So Sapp – who, at press time, has not retracted the tip from his “source” about Shockey – remains affiliated with NFL Network, even after an ordeal that Quenzel is profusely regretting (“it’s unfortunate that it happened; I’m not happy that it happened”). And while no plans for a suspension have been announced (I suppose if you don’t find his mug on “Total Access” for a few days in a row, that might be a clue), the bottom line is, the network made it very clear to Sapp what his role is on their air, and what it shall continue to be.
Recounting a conversation the network had with “QB Killa,” Quenzel said: “We have discussed it with Warren and stressed that he is an analyst and not a reporter for NFL Network… We use him to talk about what happens on the field and in the locker room and use that expertise. He’s not a reporter.
“In the future, if he comes across something he thinks is news, he will let his producers know, and before it is reported or tweeted, that content will be subject to the same verification procedure that our reporters follow.”
(So what kind of process did Michael Lombardi follow when he reported that Tim Tebow was going to be traded to the Jaguars – his source being a clone of Tim Tebow’s Twitter account? Just wondering.)