How will Deion Sanders and the NFL Network be affected in light of Roger Goodell’s warning?
A league owning a television network changes all the typical rules of journalistic independence and integrity. Calling Sanders a journalist might be something of an overstatement, too, especially in light of his reported involvement with Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant. Yet NFL Network enjoys certain advantages by being a subsidiary of the NFL, the most powerful force in sports, especially when covering the NFL itself. There are media experts who think the NFL threatens to kill its own golden goose — the incredible broadcast deals it has with the major commercial networks — because of favoritism for its in-house network. Let’s just say the NFL Network enjoys unparalleled access and cooperation from the league. But does this come at the cost of objectivity and independence? The jury is still out on that one.
The NFL commissioner has a legitimate interest in sniffing out tampering and rules-breaking around the league. But the cost here may be higher than even Goodell realizes, and warning Sanders may hurt more than it helps. What do I mean? Even the NFL Network needs confidential sources to be credible, especially against a competition that has no restrictions on what it reports as newsworthy. To maintain the flow of information from these sources, often either inside the league or near the players’ and agents’ camps, there needs to be confidentiality. If Sanders is warned, punished or made to reveal sources of his information in a tampering investigation, it would be a huge step backward for the integrity and perhaps the very survival of the network.
The source of Sanders’ information in the Crabtree situation need not be another team or teams. It could possibly have been an educated guess, based on need or past interest. It could have come from background conversations that would not rise to the level of tampering. Either way, with Crabtree signed, the prospect of warning a commentator, hired in part because of his ability to get and give inside information, could be more harmful to the credibility of the NFL Network than any damage done by tampering that may have occurred.
No one expects the NFL Network to be the New York Times or the Washington Post, and Deion Sanders probably wouldn’t dream of going to jail or even getting fired to protect a source, but the NFL must resist the temptation to use its journalistic arm as an investigative tool. Hopefully, today’s warning to Sanders relates more to any business relationships he may have with either Crabtree or Parker and his injecting himself into the stories he comments on than it does to his work as a commentator or analyst on NFL Network. However, Sanders’ reported involvement with Bryant opens a new can of worms.