Warren Sapp’s ‘Snitch’ Comment, And The Challenge It Presents for League-Owned TV Networks

By Alex Weprin Comment

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell punished the New Orleans Saints and members of its coaching staff earlier this week for paying players to hit opposing players hard and knock them out of the game. Sunday evening CNN takes a closer look at the bounty program in a special report:

There is also a media angle to the bounty story. Former player Warren Sapp–now a commentator on NFL Network–said on Twitter that former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey was the “snitch.” NFL Network ended up discussing Sapp’s comments, and naming Shockey, on air.

In response, Shockey denied the allegation, and is calling on the NFL to punish Sapp:

“Is the league going to come down on their own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous?” Shockey said. “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.”

An NFL Network exec told SI‘s Richard Deitsch that it would not be firing Sapp.

The issue exemplifies the difficulties facing sports leagues and teams that also own TV networks that cover their sports. Major League Baseball owns MLB network, the NFL owns NFL network and the NBA has a majority stake in NBA TV. Each of these networks, in addition to regional channels, needs to remain credible and independent, even though they are owned by the people they cover.

In every case, the league and team give the networks carte blanche in terms of coverage, hopefully ensuring that they serve as valuable and fair outlets for fans. In the case of Shockey/Sapp, the issue is especially tricky however. Sapp’s comments, if false, border on slander, and the league does punish other league employees for things they say. On the other hand, NFL Network needs to be independent of the league for credibility’s sake.

There really is no right or easy answer. What do you think?