Research regarding the impact of brain injuries in football and elsewhere will continue decades into the future, and one of the best defensive linemen in league history will be helping the effort.
Hall of Famer Warren Sapp announced in a video posted by ThePlayersTribune.com that he’ll be donating his brain for research aimed at understanding the effects of football. Upon his passing, the Concussion Legacy Foundation will study his brain for evidence and insights into trauma arising from years of playing football.
“I wanted this game to be better when I left than when I got into it,” Sapp said.
An email from former NFL running back Fred Willis became the catalyst for Sapp’s decision. Sapp explains in the video that the email that contained quotes from NFL owners.
“I mean down the line you could see it,” Sapp said. “‘There’s no correlation between football, CTE, suicides, and all these foolish stuff.’ I mean, where are you getting this information from and then spewing it out as if it’s fact?”
The fact is that Sapp played football at a time when things were a lot more rough and tumble than they now are.
“I remember those month-long training camps when we just banged and banged and hit, and it was who is tough?” Sapp said. “And misery loves company and all of the foolish sayings we used to say to each other. I mean, it was just bad. It was Neanderthals. We were dinosaurs. We were doing Oklahoma drills, bull in the ring, all the crazy stuff that was just about a tough guy. It wasn’t 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 admitted that he’s having memory struggles at age 44.
“I had one of those silly memories,” Sapp said. “I used to call myself an elephant in the room. Never forget anything. Man, I wake up now and be like, ‘OK, what are we doing?’ Let me get the phone. I mean, with the reminders in the phones, it really helped me get through my day with appointments and different things that I have to do because it’s just, I just can’t remember anymore like I used to. And it’s from the banging we did as football players. We used to tackle them by the head, used to grab facemasks. We used to allow Deacon Jones to do the head slap. All of that was something that we had to take away from the game. We used to hit quarterbacks below the knees. Now, it’s the strike zone. Let’s keep making the game better.”
Sapp compared the changes that will come to the game in future years to the outlandish things he heard from players like Hall of Fame defensive back Willie Brown, who said players during his time smoke cigarettes and drank beer at halftime. Sapp hopes that, years from now, football players are similarly amazed by how things used to be.
Sapp also advocates a ban on tackle football for all kids who have yet to get to high school, so that brains can better develop.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Sapp said. “Make it safer for everyone involved. Let’s get the research, apply the knowledge. And let’s make it better for everyone.”
It’s what the league has been trying to do. While there are limits as to how safe it ever will be, efforts to minimize the kind of contact that can cause head trauma will go a long way toward reducing total concussions and hopefully ensure that men like Sapp won’t have memory issues in the mid-40s.