NFL Network won't fire Warren Sapp over Jeremy Shockey comments

If Shockey isn't, in fact, the whistleblower, he could sue Sapp and NFL Network for defamation.  (US PRESSWIRE)

Former NFL defensive lineman Warren Sapp now makes his living as an NFL analyst for NFL Network. On Wednesday, he went on air to out the whistleblower in the Saints bounty scandal.

“My source that was close to the situation informed me that [name omitted] is the one that was the snitch initially,” Sapp said (via PFT.com). ”I trust my source unequivocally. … ”I did not call anybody at the league and I did not receive any information from the league. …"

The "snitch," as Sapp put it, was former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, who promptly denied the accusations. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton confirmed as much to Shockey in a text message, and CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman "asked people familiar with the NFL's investigation and was told Shockey had nothing to do with the case. Nothing. At all."

Understandably, Shockey wants the NFL Network to punish Sapp.

"Is the league going to come down on their own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous?” Shockey asked Yahoo's Jason Cole. “There should be a standard for punishment, like getting suspended or fined or losing your job. If I say something about officials, the league fines me."

In a statement released Friday, NFL Network Senior Vice President of Programming and Production Mark Quenzel said that Sapp had been remind that "he is an analyst and not a reporter for NFL Network. 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.”

As for punishments … well, Jeremy, we have some bad news for you: Quenzel told USA Today that Sapp wouldn't lose his job over the incident.

"We're not going to fire Warren....The way we look at it, Warren clearly crossed the line in terms of what his responsibility is. He's an analyst for us. 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."

Quenzel declined to tell USA Today whether Sapp would be suspended without pay, pulled off the air or punished at all. Good news, though: the network will remind all employees of the "implications" of going rogue in the news gathering process.

Meanwhile, Shockey, who has a history of rubbing people the wrong way but still doesn't deserve to be wrongly accused, now has to deal with the ramifications of being called a snitch on the NFL's own network. But could he take legal action? According to Michael McCann, a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School, the short answer is … maybe.

McCann told SI.com's Richard Deitsch that Shockey could have a claim against the league for retribution.

"But there are factors that may limit the likelihood of his complaint succeeding," McCann said via email. "Namely, Sapp is not an employee of the NFL. If he's an employee (and he might be an independent contractor) his employer is the NFL Network, which is league owned but is a separate entity, and with some editorial autonomy, from 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."

But if Shockey isn't the whistleblower, McCann writes that "he could sue Sapp and possibly the NFL Network to the extent it controls its hosts' tweets, for defamation. I think he would have a good argument, unless he in fact is the whistleblower in which case truth is an absolute defense to defamation."

So, to recap: Shockey tells the truth and he's identified as a snitch. Sapp doesn't tell the truth on an NFL-owned network and he could avoid punishment altogether.

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CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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