Tuesday, Bleacher Report published an article that claimed to identify the man responsible for informing the league of the existence of the New Orleans Saints' defensive bounty program.
You may have noted that I didn't actually say the name of the person identified in that article. In fact, I didn't even link that article. I won't even mention the name of the piece, as it names the person and opens with a large photo of the individual.
I'm not doing any of those things because I believe, as does Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, that it is utterly inappropriate to do so.
That accusation was made publicly by Warren Sapp, an "analyst" for the NFL Network (though, quite possibly a soon-to-be former-"analyst"), who was then brought on to the network to talk about the accusation. Sapp went so far as to call Shockey a "snitch."
Five days after that, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell publicly stated that Shockey was not, in fact, the person who informed the NFL about the existence of the program.
The word "snitch" is used numerous times in the comment thread for the aforementioned article. A poll in that article refers to the second candidate as "disgruntled." And, almost predictably, one of the comments simply reads, "Snitches get stitches!"
This should be a big concern for the media and the public alike. After all, the word fan comes from the word fanatic. Players have had their property vandalized for mistakes that cost their teams games (Leodis McKelvin in 2009 is a notable example).
Referees have had their homes vandalized after blown calls. As Florio points out: "All it takes is one nutcase to take that frustration to a new level, and then the NFL can forget about anyone ever cooperating with any future investigations regarding instances of possible rules violations."
Should the informant's identity be made public, even if he/she wants to remain anonymous?
Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." For the moment, let's assume that this was an innocent mistake; the person making the accusation had unimpeachable facts (as Warren Sapp claimed regarding Shockey).
Even if the truth that this person isn't involved comes out a few days later, many people will see and read the articles naming this person as the whistleblower, and never see the subsequent retractions. The net result is this person will quite likely be subjected to harassment for no reason at all, and have their reputations sullied forever—never mind the truth.
On the other hand, let's say, for the sake of argument, that this person is the informant who reported the Saints and their coaches to the NFL. Regardless of the informant's motivations, the informant did the right thing in reporting the bounty program to league officials. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately encouraging injuries. Especially not in a sport as inherently violent as football, where careers can be ended by accidental injuries.
Whoever the informant is—and I have no idea who—that person deserves to have the NFL make every reasonable effort to ensure his or her anonymity, until and unless he or she decides to come forward (or, possibly, is forced to come forward for legal reasons). And should the informant come forward, the NFL owes the informant protection to ensure his or her safety. It doesn't matter whether the person is someone in the Saints organization or not.
As fans, we should be glad this individual came forward. Even Saints fans should. Yes, the punishment may be harsh, but no true NFL fan should want to see a player's career ended by injuries. (Patriots WR Wes Welker said he wouldn't wish an ACL injury on his worst enemy.) If this individual/"informant" prevents future headhunting/kneehunting/etc., we should be grateful. We shouldn't try to play the blame game.