An NFL Network executive said Friday that former Buccaneers and Raiders All-Pro Warren Sapp would not be fired over his claim that a source told him free agent tight end Jeremy Shockey reported the New Orleans Saints' bounty program to the NFL.
Shockey vehemently denied the claim in interviews and Twitter posts Wednesday night and Thursday, and Friday said Sapp should be suspended, fined or fired by the league-owned NFL Network.
The dispute started Wednesday on Twitter, when Sapp tweeted that he "Just Heard Who The Snitch Was." When one of his followers guessed Shockey, Sapp replied with "BINGO!"
That prompted Shockey to tweet "my a--!! I don't even play defense! HaHa"
To which Sapp replied "that's not the issue!"
Sapp, a commentator on the NFL Network, then discussed the exchange on the air with studio host Rich Eisen.
"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," Sapp said. "I trust my source unequivocally because he is right on top of the situation."
Mark Quenzel, the NFL Network's senior vice president of programming and production, said Friday that Sapp would not be fired over the incident, but said Sapp was told he is not a reporter for the network.
"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," Quenzel told USA Today. "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 said NFL Network executives discussed the matter with Sapp.
"We have discussed it with Warren and stressed that he is an analyst and not a reporter for NFL Network," he said in a statement to NBC Sports. "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."
That's not good enough for Shockey, who wants Sapp punished.
"Is the league going to come down on their own people when someone does something so wrong and outrageous?" Shockey asked in an interview with Yahoo Sports on Friday. "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.
"This guy says something about me that's not true and that he's not supposed to say and what happens? Nothing."
Shockey also said he has been contacted by several lawyers about a possible lawsuit against Sapp.
"I'm 31 years old and this is not good," said Shockey, who played last season for the Carolina Panthers. "People have asked if this is going to hurt me in finding another team. I don't know, but it's not helping me."
Quenzel emphasized to USA Today that Sapp is an independent contractor, not an NFL Network employee, and said the network would remind all employees and contractors about the need to follow proper newsgathering procedures.
In an interview with Yahoo Sports on Wednesday night, Shockey elaborated on his tweeted denial of the accusation, which he called reckless and careless.
"It's hurtful to me and the great time I had with the Saints," Shockey said. "Sean Payton is a father figure to me. I would never do that to him or to the Saints."
He offered to take a polygraph test to prove he was telling the truth, even saying he would do so on live television.
"I know Sean Payton's family and I have been around them. I have been to his son's birthday parties. I've had my family around him. We're friends," said Shockey, who played for the Saints from 2008 to 2010. "I loved my time in New Orleans and now people are killing me on social media thinking I did this. I love Who Dat nation.
"I was never in the defensive meeting rooms to know anything about what went on in there and I've never been asked to try and hurt someone on the opposing team."
Shockey, who also played for the New York Giants when Payton was that team's offensive coordinator, suggested to Yahoo Sports that Sapp might not be a reliable source, himself.
"I've never been a guy who failed multiple drug tests. I've never been divorced. I don't have four kids by four different women. I don't lie," he said. "This attacks my character and it's not fair."
On Thursday afternoon, Shockey used Twitter to post a picture of what looks like a text exchange between Payton and himself Wednesday night with a tweet that said "The truth shall set u free!! Read the text":
Shockey: "Coach sux to hear the news u know I love u and that s--- is unfair! Sapp is saying I was the rat wtf u know me and u know this is media bull----"
Coach Payton: "Shock your my guy and always will be!! I know you had nothing to do with that stuff sap said!! Hell you were in the offensive mtgs with me!!! Love ya. Sean
Fox Sports also reported that Sapp could find himself in hot water for naming Shockey as the whistleblower.
Federal labor law protects employees against retribution for reporting unsafe work environments, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has vowed to protect the identity of anyone reporting activities like to so-called bounty program, where Saints players reportedly earned cash bonuses for injuring opposing players and knocking them out of games.
"If Shockey is the whistle-blower, he is protected," Los Angeles-based employment lawyer Arthur Whang told Fox Sports. "Shockey might be able to claim in a retaliation lawsuit that he was a protected employee and he blew the whistle, but then the league retaliated against him by releasing his identity to the world," Whang said. "That, in turn, opened him up to all kinds of damages, like ridicule and his ability to sign with a new team."
An NFL investigation determined that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran the bounty program from 2009 through 2011 and that between 22 and 27 Saints players were involved.
On Wednesday, Goodell indefinitely suspended Williams, who had taken over as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, suspended Payton for one year, and handed out other suspensions, fines and took away two future draft picks.
Sapp seemed to recognize that naming a potential source in an investigation of this nature was risky when interviewed by Eisen. He acknowledged he had not spoken to anyone from the league.
"Whenever you inform something of this caliber, your identity should be protected," Sapp said. "But I was given that information and I went with it by a reliable source that I know."