Super Bowl Champion and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp announced today that he will be donating his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for research into traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
In a video shared by The Players’ Tribune, the defensive tackle who played for thirteen years in the NFL says he wants “this game to be better when I left than when I got into it.”
As Sapp explains, he was motivated to make the decision by an email he received from another former NFL player – running back Fred Willis. The email collected various statements from NFL team owners who were taking strong stances against the risk from brain injuries.
“I mean down the line you could see it: There’s no correlation between football, CTE, suicides, and all this foolish stuff. … I mean where are you getting this information from and then spewing it out as if it’s fact?”
The seven-time Pro Bowl player also says he has his own struggles with the effects of repeated brain injuries throughout his career.
“We’re playing in a macho league and we’re talking about Hall of Famers now who are immortalized forever, made busts and everything. Legends of the game,” he said. “There’s no way any of us wanna really admit that we can’t remember how to get home or a grocery list that the wife has given us or how to go pick up our kids to the school, or whatever it may be.
“You try to [say], ‘All right, I’m gonna get a little more sleep — maybe it’s something I did last night, maybe something I drank,’ or whatever it is. You try to find a reason that it’s not that it’s my brain, that I’m not deteriorating right before my own eyes.
“It’s the most frightening feeling, but it’s also a very weakening feeling because you feel like a child. I need help. I need somebody to help me find something that I could’ve found with my eyes closed, in the dead of night, half asleep.”
Since his long career in the NFL, Sapp has also had personal issues that could be related to his brain injury. He has had a number of violent incidents which lost him his job as an analyst for NFL Network. It’s impossible to say his brain injuries absolve him of responsibility for the incidents. But, it should be noted that many players who have been since diagnosed with CTE were involved in similar incidents after retiring from the NFL.
Sapp says football has changed a lot to better protect players throughout his lifetime, but it needs to step up when it comes to brain injuries. Most importantly, players like him have to make tough decisions to help progress research so we can better understand traumatic brain injury and CTE.
“We used to tackle them by the head. Used to grab face masks. 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 a strike zone. Let’s keep making the game better.”