As potential whistleblowers go, they don’t get much less sympathetic than tight end Jeremy Shockey. But the man former Giants receiver Amani Toomer described last week as a “bad teammate” and “worse person” nevertheless has rights.
Specifically, Shockey has the right to not be outed as the person who cracked the case of the Saints’ bounty program in 2011. Especially if Shockey wasn’t the person who blew the whistle.
But that’s what happened on Wednesday. Former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp identified Shockey as the whistleblower on Twitter. Amazingly, NFL Network thereafter decided (apparently without consulting legal counsel, or perhaps relying on the advice of Lionel Hutz) to put Sapp on the league-owned air and repeat his contention.
Shockey has vehemently denied being the whistleblower. And now he wants something to be done about the potential damage to his prospects for getting another job.
“Is the league going to come down on their own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous?” Shockey told Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports. “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.”
Shockey said he has been contacted by multiple lawyers about possibly filing suit, and that he has heard nothing from the league.
“I’m 31 years old and this is not good,” Shockey said. “People have asked if this is going to hurt me in finding another team. I don’t know, but it’s not helping me.”
Unfortunately for Shockey, there could be plenty of other factors keeping a team from signing him. Still, being flagged as a potential whistleblower doesn’t help. Even if no other NFL team will ever again use a bounty system, the outdated mentality of the football locker room shuns those who would break the code of silence in any way.
In Shockey’s case, the problem is that few would regard him as someone who succumbed to a crisis of conscience. Instead, many would assume he was simply trying to get back at the Saints for cutting him.
That said, a league source has told us that Shockey wasn’t the whistleblower, and that he wasn’t involved in any way in the investigation. If that’s true, why doesn’t the league simply say so?
Apparently, the NFL is so sensitive about potentially disclosing the name of the whistleblower that it doesn’t want to comment on the matter at all, even by expressly ruling someone out. If that’s the reason for the silence, the league needs to accept the reality that the ship has sailed, via the disclosure of Shockey’s name on the league-owned network by an employee of the league-owned network, which necessarily makes him an employee of the league.
The problem isn’t Sapp. That’s his style and his shtick, and it’s what makes him good on TV. The problem is that the NFL failed to convene a meeting of its NFL Network and NFL.com staff in early March and explain that any reporting or speculation or discussion of the identity of the person who provided information that helped the NFL discover the existence of the bounty program was prohibited, whether because outing a whistleblower violates the law or because it potentially puts him at risk of retaliation by an unstable fan or because it will cause future whistleblowers to not cooperate or, perhaps the best reason of all, because it’s the right thing to do.
That didn’t happen, which means that in the heat of the process of determining the on-air content on one of the craziest offseason days in NFL history, a bad decision was made. Before the NFL punishes any of them, the NFL needs to realize that the failure to issue what should have been an obvious directive directly caused the current problem.