Monday, March 26, 2012

Warrented? Sapp, Shockey & Defamation

Former NFL defensive lineman and current football analyst for the NFL Network Warren Sapp claimed that Jeremy Shockey was the whistle-blower in the NFL's investigation into the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-performance system that resulted in a slew of sanctions.

Sapp first got things rolling on Twitter. Here’s the exchange:

Sapp later defended his position on NFL Network, saying his source was very close to the situation and reliable. Here's part of that conversation with Rich Eisen:

“My source that was close to the situation informed me that [name omitted] is the one that was the snitch initially. I trust my source unequivocally. … ”I did not call anybody at the league and I did not receive any information from the league.”

Shockey has denied the accusations. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton confirmed as much to Shockey in a text message, and's Mike Freeman "asked people familiar with the NFL's investigation and was told Shockey had nothing to do with the case. Nothing. At all."

So from a legal standpoint, the question then is whether Shockey can sue Sapp for defamation for calling him a “snitch”.


What is defamation? A defamatory statement is one that is likely to lower the reputation of a person in the eyes of reasonable people.

The law protects your reputation against defamation. If someone defames you, you can sue them to pay money (called “damages”) for harming your reputation.

Side note – we often hear the words libel and slander thrown around. Slander refers to the spoken word, while libel refers to comments in fixed form – like print.

A defence to defamation is the truth. If a statement is true you don’t have defamation.

Sapp & Defamation

Bottom line is this – if Sapp’s statements don’t turn out to be true, then yes – Shockey can sue him for defamation. He could also drag Sapp’s employer into this mess.

What was the NFL’s reaction. They got right to the point. NFL Network Senior Vice President of Programming and Production Mark Quenzel said this:

"We're not going to fire Warren....The way we look at it, Warren clearly crossed the line in terms of what his responsibility is. He's an analyst for us. We use him to talk about what happens on the field and in the locker room and use that expertise. He's not a reporter."
Quenzel also said Sapp was reminded that "he is an analyst and not a reporter for NFL Network. In the future, if he comes across something he thinks is news he will let his producers know and before it is reported or Tweeted, that content will be subject to the same verification procedure that our reporters follow.”

If there is compelling evidence that Shockey was not the snitch, then it will be interesting to see if Sapp or the network will issue an apology. Presumably the NFL has this information. It’s reasonable to expect that Shockey will want some type of resolution so he can clear his name.

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