Warren Sapp, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who retired from the NFL in 2008 following 13 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, announced on Tuesday that he will donate his brain to science after his death.
In a letter and video for The Players’ Tribune, Sapp explained that an email from Fred Willis, who eventually left the NFL because of repeated concussions, convinced him to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The foundation was founded in 2007 and is “dedicated to advancing the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.” Sapp said he wanted football to be in a better place when he left than we he got into it and that quotes from NFL owners downplaying the impact of concussions motivated him to take action.
“We play in a macho league and we’re talking about Hall-of-Famers now who are immortalized forever,” Sapp said. “Made busts and everything – legends of the game. There’s no way any of us want to 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 ‘Alright, I’m gonna get a little more sleep. Maybe it’s something I did last night, maybe something I drank’ or whatever it is,” Sapp continued. “You try to find a reason that it’s not ‘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.”
Sapp also admitted that he “just can’t remember anymore like I used to,” which is why he relies on his phone to remind himself of what he needs to do throughout the day. Football is better and safer than it used to be, he says, but it’s now a matter of making the game safer for everyone involved from the youth to high schoolers to future NFL players.
Sapp isn’t the first NFL player to donate his brain to science and he certainly won’t be the last. Earlier this year, 30 former NFL players – including three Pro-Bowlers – pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Shortly thereafter, ESPN published a story revealing that Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist, had found CTE in 47 of the 48 brains she had studied of deceased NFL players. The more studies show the long-term effects of concussions and the more the NFL distances itself from them, the more likely it is that players will do whatever they can to advance the conversation.