The Scouting Combine often becomes an informational free-for-all, with plenty of nuggets and rumors (often incorrect) floating around — and with plenty of swarming reporters who are looking to secure raises and/or better jobs tempted to apply a fire-aim-ready approach, all in the hopes of “being first.”
In most cases, the only risk is being wrong. When it comes to certain topics, however, there’s a new concern, especially for those reporters employed directly by the NFL.
On Saturday, reports emerged that Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain is facing a four-game fine for his third violation of the substance-abuse policy. And there’s the problem. The confidentiality provision of the substance-abuse policy is supposed to prevent the public from knowing that a player is facing a fine for violation of the substance-abuse policy. Technically, nothing can be disclosed by the NFL until a suspension has been finalized and announced.
The fact that the latest positive puts McClain within one strike of a suspension could supply the motivation for the Cowboys or another team to leak the news that signing the soon-to-be free agent entails additional risk. Regardless, the information shouldn’t have been disclosed by whoever disclosed it.
And here’s where it gets interesting. The new substance-abuse policy permits the retention of an independent investigator where confidentiality has been breached, along with stiff penalties that may be imposed by the NFL or the NFLPA, from fines up to $500,000 to termination of employment.
And here’s where it gets even more interesting. One of the breaches came from an NFL employee, through the NFL-owned website and the NFL-owned network.
“NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that the Dallas Cowboys linebacker is facing a four-game fine for a third failed drug test, per sources informed of his situation,” the article at NFL.com currently states; “LB Rolando McClain faces four-game fine after failing third drug test, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports,” the scroll at the bottom of NFL Network currently declares.
The leak didn’t come from McClain’s camp. Sources close to the situation tell PFT that some members of the media got wind of the fine before McClain’s representatives even knew about it.
If the confidentiality provision of the substance-abuse policy is to have any validity or credibility, an investigation will occur. And that investigation necessarily will include an interview of any and all relevant NFL employees. While other reporters are beyond the scope of the NFL’s ability to compel them to disclose sources, NFL Media reporters work for the league. Which gives the league the right to press them for information in the same way any other employer would press an employee for information when conducting an internal investigation.
So what would the league do if Rapoport refuses to disclose his source(s) for the violation of McClain’s confidentiality? On one hand, it would be wrong for the NFL to expect a reporter to violate journalistic principles in the name of an internal investigation. On the other hand, journalistic principles become blurred (at best) when a reporter accepts employment with the entity the reporter will be covering.