If there was ever a time to defend Jeremy Shockey, it’s right now. Any media member siding with the brute tight end was a seemingly unfathomable anomaly until a single tweet turned the tides 24 hours ago.
Former NFL defensive tackle and current television football analyst Warren Sapp used Twitter to reveal the alleged source behind the “bounty-gate” scandal which rocked the New Orleans Saints after the league heavily penalized the organization on Wednesday.
Here is a screen grab of the Twitter exchange between Sapp and Shockey, the former Saints player cited by Sapp as the whistleblower:
Sapp later appeared on television to support his claim:
"I was sitting in the production meeting getting ready for the day and my source that was close to the situation informed me that Jeremy Shockey was the snitch initially. So I went with that. I trust my source unequivocally because he is right on top of the situation. I understand what this is. Shockey comes out and says that he’s not. We just found out who ‘Deep Throat’ was and he almost died. I understand. Whenever you inform something of this caliber, your identity should be protected, but I was given that information and I went with it by a reliable source that I know."
The issue is no longer whether or not Shockey slipped the Saints’ secrets to somebody at the league office. Instead, the focus has shifted to the way in which Sapp, now a member of the national media, handled the alleged information.
First, the relationship between a journalist and a source is so scared that the United States government has laws protecting it. Reporters have served jail time rather than reveal their sources whom they vowed to protect at all costs.
A different kind of source can often be found in police stations, office buildings and even inside private homes. Countless cases of criminal activity, abuse, workplace corruption and various injustices have been stopped by people brave enough to speak up under the cloak of anonymity.
One could argue that it is a journalist’s job to find the “source” who reported the Saints’ offenses to the league, resulting in one of the most extensive and harsh punishments in NFL history. While it would serve virtually no purpose at this point, sure, revealing that person’s identity would be newsworthy. On the other hand, as any journalist who claims to be more than just a TV talking head, who, dare I say studied the profession in college should know, sources and their information are to be used with great caution. Aside from treading lighting to protect the source, a journalist must protect him or herself as well because anonymous sources are often wrong and unreliable.
Journalists typically use the term “whistleblower,” as the word implies dignity in telling a very hard truth in order to stop wrongdoing. While perhaps shunned by peers, a whistleblower is well-respected by others who understand the guts it takes to stand up and do what is right.
On the streets, in tougher neighborhoods than 280 Park Avenue, “snitch” is used to perpetuate negativity and shame, often preventing brave folks with morals from taking that final, frightening step necessary to stop criminal behavior.
The league office is not an NYPD precinct. A professional football field is not the corner store where s%$& goes down. Using the term “snitch” in reference to a sports scandal is absolutely reckless.
Outing a source is a delicate action that should be reserved for someone with foresight, hesitation and critical thinking that goes beyond dropping an info-bomb on your Twitter timeline.
Shockey has tried just about everything to rid himself of the “snitch” stigma, including offering to participate in a polygraph test on live television and publishing a text message conversation with Sean Payton in which the suspended Saints head coach appears to absolve Shockey of any bounty-gate related sins.
But none of that matters because the damage has been done. Shockey, a 10-year veteran already known for being outspoken (a euphemism in his case), will have a tough time getting picked up by another organization (he is a free agent) as players will fear that their secrets are no longer safe in the locker room, training room and other closed-door areas of team facilities.
More importantly, outing the alleged source will prevent other players from coming forward and reporting infractions for fear of damage not only to their reputation but also to relationships with teammates and coaches. Then there’s always retaliation and plenty of other unpleasantries associated with being a “snitch.” p
It will be very interesting to watch how the fallout plays out in the court of public opinion, inside the league office, and out on the football field in the years to come.
The Goodell Hammer came down hard on the New Orleans Saints and head coach Sean Payton Wednesday in the wake of a bounty scandal causing a major commotion in the NFL.
In punishing the coach-sponsored program in which Saints defensive players were paid varying cash rewards for injuring opposing players during games, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinforced his reputation as a stern disciplinarian who isn’t afraid to make an example of his subjects.
Payton received a wealth of Goodell’s wrath, incurring a year-long suspension, making him the first head coach in NFL history to ever be suspended. Former Saints and current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, Saints GM Mickey Loomis will be suspended for the first eight regular-season games without pay, Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt will sit out the first six games of the regular season and the team itself will be fined $500,000 along with forfeiting second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
While the punishment is indeed historic given its severity, I actually think it could have been significantly worse for the Saints. Given Goodell’s track record of harshly disciplining players who make mistakes off the field (see: Pacman Jones, Chris Henry, Michael Vick, etc.), I expected the commissioner to perhaps do the unthinkable in attempts to quash an illegal practice that is, unfortunately, not unique to the Saints.
I feared Goodell would vacate the team’s wins from 2009-2011, which would include the Saints incredible Super Bowl run. Sure, “vacating wins” and taking something out of the record books doesn’t erase it from our memories, but the stench of corruption and shame alone is enough to want to forget something that once evoked such sweetness and pleasure.
Sadly, a bounty program such as this is nothing new in the world of sports, but two things set the Saints apart from others who have engaged in such behavior:
1) The details of their pay-for-performance system were made painfully public
2) They got caught during a transition period for the league in terms of heightened awareness of the medical dangers of football and the attempt at increasing safety measures in games.
Does the following sound conducive to making the game safer and trying to win lawsuits against former players suing the league?
"The NFL said the scheme involved 22 to 27 defensive players; targeted opponents included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner," according to an ESPN.com article. " ‘Knockouts’ were worth $1,500 and ‘cart-offs’ $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game."
Football is a violent sport and players are trained from an early age to embrace the brutality of the game, but with what we now know about the dangers of concussions, including the newly-discovered link between head trauma and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), somebody needs to step in and save these guys from themselves.
I appreciate the fact that Roger Goodell has the stones to do what’s best for the future of these young men, regardless of what the players, coaches, owners or fans think. The league isn’t perfect, and yes, there are other ways in which ownership hurts players but at least this is a step in the right direction in one area of the game. For that, I say ‘good job’ Goodell.