Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Rumble Strip creator Erica Heilman on making independent audio and asking people about class
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March 22, 2012, 12:09 p.m.

Back in 2009, we ran a four-part series on the growth of sports media owned by the sports leagues being covered — for instance, TV operations like the NFL Network or websites like, both of which have substantial newsrooms.

Yesterday was an interesting test case for the topic. The NFL handed down major sanctions against the New Orleans Saints for breaking some NFL rules. People started wondering: What ex-Saint reported the violations to the league? NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp reported, first on Twitter, then on air: “My source that was close to the situation informed me that Jeremy Shockey is the one that was the snitch initially.”

So you have the NFL-owned network reporting on air the identity of a confidential NFL whistleblower.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes the network should have kept its mouth shut so as not to discourage potential future whistleblowers:

…the next time the NFL is trying to crack the locker-room Omerta and someone is considering the possibility of doing the right thing and coming clean, that person should legitimately be concerned that his name eventually will be broadcast to the world on the TV network owned by the NFL…

This is a failure by NFL Network to understand the potential consequences of discussing on the air in any way the name of the person who did the right thing…someone at NFLN saw Sapp’s tweet and Sapp was brought on the air to discuss it and Sapp just answered questions that never, ever should have been asked.

There’s that tension: Should NFL Network operate in the best interests of the league? Or should it act as an independent news organization would, even when its reporting doesn’t align with the league’s interests?

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