Hall of Fame player Warren Sapp announced Tuesday he’s starting to suffer the effects of the many hits he took during his long football career and he’s donating his brain for concussion research.
The Apopka native and former University of Miami and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star said in a story and video posted on The Players Tribune that he hopes his decision will help the game get better.
“And that’s the reason I’m donating my brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation,” he said in the video.
“It’s scary to think that my brain could be deteriorating, and that maybe things like forgetting a grocery list, or how to get to a friend’s house I’ve been to a thousand times are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “So when it comes to concussions, CTE and how we can make our game safer for future generations, I wanted to put my two cents in — to help leave the game better off than it was when I started playing.”
Sapp said he was spurred to action after seeing an email that had quotes from NFL team owners downplaying the significance of concussion symptoms. “Down the line, you could see them. ‘There’s no correlation between football, CTE, suicides’ and all of this foolish stuff. I mean, where are you getting this information from? And then, spewing it out as if it’s fact,” he said.
Talking about the many hits he and his teammates took during training camps to try to look tough, Sapp said: “I mean, it was just bad, it was Neanderthals; we were dinosaurs. I mean, we were doing Oklahoma Drill, Bull in the Ring, all this crazy stuff that was just about a tough guy. It wasn’t about how much skills you had. It was just the bare bones of bone-on-bone, and that’s not what this game should be. It’s about skills.”
Sapp said he and other Pro Football Hall of Fame members with brain injuries try to search for answers as to why they are have trouble remembering simple tasks.
“It’s the most frightening feeling, but it’s also a very weakening feeling because you feel like a child. I need help.”
Sapp said his memory problems have gotten so bad, he’s had to start leaving reminders on his cell phone about tasks or appointments to help get him through his day.
“It’s just, I just can’t remember anymore like I used to … and it’s from the banging we did as football players,” Sapp said.
In his statement, Sapp also said he advocates eliminating tackling for all levels of youth football programs.
“We eliminate the tackle football, for all the kids, we put them on equal playing fields so that all their brains develop and then, when in high school, now let’s go! Now let’s pick out a four year plan for you to find the college you want to go to, to play the game you know and love and be good at it.”
He added, “That’s the biggest thing. Make it safer for everybody involved. Let’s get the research, apply the knowledge and let’s make it all better for everybody.”
Sapp started his high school career at Apopka as a linebacker, tight end, kicker and punter for the Blue Darters. At the University of Miami, Sapp was named the Big East Defensive Player of the year in 1994, and also earned the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Tropy and Bill Willis Award.
He was selected by the Bucs 12th overall in the 1995 NFL draft and was a big reason for the team’s resurgence and its Super Bowl XXXVII win.
He later left the Bucs and joined the Oakland Raiders, the team Tampa Bay beat for its NFL championship. He retired from Oakland the 2007 season, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
During his pro career, he played in 198 NFL games, starting 188. He finished with 573 tackles and 96.5 sacks.