You don't have to read between the lines to get a sense of how close Warren Sapp was to losing his NFL Network gig. The network's executives on Friday afternoon were blunt about it. "We decided not to fire Warren," said Mark Quenzel, senior vice president of programming and production.
The network certainly had cause for discipline. Sapp, who has been an analyst with the network since 2008, tweeted earlier in the week that former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey was an informant (Sapp used the word "snitch") in the Saints bounty scandal that resulted in extensive penalties for the team. Shockey has since repeatedly denied he was the whistleblower, telling Yahoo! Sports that he believes Sapp should be punished by the league: "Is the league going to come down on their own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous?" Shockey told the website. "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."Quenzel said he spoke with Sapp on Thursday and made clear to the analyst that he is not a reporter. He would not say if Sapp is facing specific discipline outside of saying he remains employed by the network. "Our reporters are held to a very specific standard as to what needs to happen before they report the news," Quenzel said. "Warren went into an area where he is not an expert. He understands what his role is with the NFL Network. At the end of the discussion, he said he understood the protocols and the procedures we go by to report the news. He said he understood what his role is with NFL Network."
Reached by SI.com on the phone late Friday afternoon, Shockey said that he was not sure there was a fair punishment for Sapp. "He lost all credibility when it comes to his fan base and regarding what he comes on the air and says," Shockey said. "When he gives his judgment or speech on the NFL Network, I think he will lose a lot of credibility when it comes to the fans."
Shockey said several attorneys have contacted him, and he'll speak on that subject at a later date. "I'm 31 years old and I'm not getting any younger," Shockey said. "I'm not saying this is going to hurt me one bit as far as free agency but I can tell you one thing: It's not helping me at all.... In a perfect world, the NFL should come out and say we have the evidence, we have testimony from a person and it is 100 percent not Jeremy Shockey. It's not fair when you drag someone's name in the mud. At the end of the day one person can say sorry, but really the NFL should do the right thing and I'm sure they will.
Sapp discussed his tweet on the air with studio host Rich Eisen, saying, "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."
Asked by SI.com if he knew who Sapp's source was, Quinzel said he had an idea but "the issue for me is not who the source is, how he [Sapp] got it, where he got it, or whether he believes it or not. My issue is he did not follow the news-gathering procedures that we have."On that point, Quenzel said there are written editorial procedures in place at the NFL Network about reporting news for both employees and independent contractors such as Sapp, who is not a full-time employee of the network.
Sapp will be back on the network's air, but there is no specific date for his next appearance. Quenzel said no one from the league office ordered him to discipline Sapp and reiterated during an interview with SI.com that the NFL "treats the NFL Network editorially as an independent organization, and not just in this case but in all cases."
Does it matter that Sapp tweeted this on his personal account? Quenzel made the distinction that it did. "Warren tweeted the information he tweeted on his personal Twitter account, not on NFL Network or any platform related to NFL Media," Quenzel said. "I don't consider it to be an NFL Network report."
"When we were made aware that the tweet had gone out, our view of it was that Warren has a large Twitter following and it became clear pretty quickly that it was getting reaction quickly, and our policy is that you proactively deal with those types of situations and try to be as transparent as you can. Warren made a comment on his Twitter account and because he is associated with NFL Network, we needed to deal with it."
A number of publications have reported that Sapp's allegations might have violated federal labor laws, which protect employees against retribution as result of complaining about unsafe work environment. Michael McCann, a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School, frequently writes on legal issues for SI.com and said the short answer is that Shockey could have a claim against the NFL for retribution.
"But there are factors that may limit the likelihood of his complaint succeeding," McCann wrote in an 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.
If Shockey isn't the whistleblower 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."
Shockey said he does not need an apology from Sapp, but he remains livid about the incident. "I'm not looking for an apology but it just sucks that you have a fan base in New Orleans where you won the Super Bowl and I have done a lot of great things in the city and now my name is tarnished," Shockey said. "Even if one percent of the Saints fans agree with Warren Sapp and not with the truth, that still hurts me and my character and my image. It's just sad that happened. But I'm telling you the truth here. I have nothing to lie about."
With the NFL suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for next season, indefinitely banning Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, banning Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games, each of those gentlemen have free time on their hands in 2012.
Payton is a particularly interesting case, given he is close friends with ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden and he's a charismatic talker. USA Today writer Michael Hiestand discussed Payton's television potential here.
Asked on Friday if the quartet above is free to negotiate with NFL television partners for an NFL studio or game analyst this season, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said "nothing precludes them" from doing so.
But how would the NFL feel if the parties above collected a check from their partners after being suspended by Roger Goodell? "We do not have a comment," said McCarthy.
On Friday, an ESPN spokesperson told SI.com that "we have no plans to add Sean Payton to our NFL coverage for the 2012 season." ESPN said it would evaluate each of the above suspended parties on a case-by-case basis and the circumstances related to each, but it seems obvious that none of the Suspended Four will have a significant role on that sports network this fall.
Jim Rome starts burning again next week. The sports talk-host will make his CBS Sports debut during coverage of the 2012 NCAA Final Four as his new daily half-hour show, ROME, debuts on CBS Sports Network on April 3. The show will air weekdays at 6 p.m. ET. "I'm going to do the things I've always done," Rome told SI.com. "I'm going to rant. I'm going to do interviews. I'll be putting panels together. But I don't want to do the same show I've always done."
The biggest difference from his long-running ESPN2 show, Rome Is Burning? Rome said he will not conduct an interview every show and that he wants to give new voices a shot. "I want to make use of bloggers and make use of some guys who have not been out there," Rome said. "The other thing I want to do more of is social media. I love Twitter and I want to make use of those things."
As part of his multi-year deal with CBS, Rome will also host a monthly sports and entertainment series on Showtime (former ESPN content head Mark Shapiro, the CEO of Dick Clark Productions, is the executive producer of the Showtime show) that debuts this fall. Rome said this will be a different show from his daily CBS Sports Network show, with a mixture of entertainment and sports guests."I've never tried anything like this before," Rome said. "It's pay cable. It's an hour long. Just by virtue of where it is, I have to give them something different. But at the same time I know who I am and I know where I live. I am not going to compromise my brand. There will not be one F-bomb."
Rome also will contribute to CBS Sports' coverage of the NFL, NCAA basketball and U.S. Open Tennis Championships, as well as other select events. Look for him to do interviews and lead some panel discussions. "I think the thinking is maybe I am a little bit different than some of what they have so let's give him some opportunities," Rome said. "This week I'll be in New Orleans at the Final Four for what looks like some interviews and maybe some other stuff with a coach at the Final Four.
The CBS Sports Network is in about 45 million homes, according to CBS, which is far less than ESPN (99 million). "I'm not worried about that," Rome said. "That's part of the challenge. Look, they are bringing me in for a reason: I think they want me to help direct people to it. That's part of my job. Let people know where we are and help grow this thing."
Rome dismissed the idea that he was pushed out of ESPN or that he and management butted heads with his vision. He said his relationship with ESPN ended well. "I'm proud of the fact I had a daily show that ran for seven or eight years there," Rome said. "When CBS calls, you do not say no. And I just felt I had to try something new. I could have kept going and doing the same thing for several more years but I felt at this point of my career, I had to take something of a chance and stretch. But in terms of how it ended with ESPN, it ended well."