Hall of Famer Sapp Adds Voice, Brain to Football Head Trauma Debate | WYPR

Hall of Famer Sapp Adds Voice, Brain to Football Head Trauma Debate

Jun 26, 2017

Credit Daniel X. O'Neil/flickr

The calendar says late June, and, in a sports context, that, for many, means baseball and the early stages of a pennant race. But, soon enough, the calendar will turn to fall and the American sports attention will  quickly turn to football, assuming it ever leaves football.

And for millions of parents of kids, especially those kids who want to play football for the first time, the changing of the calendar will bring on a decision: whether to let those kids play the game or not.

Once upon a time, say, a generation or so ago, such a decision was a no-brainer.

If your little boy wanted to play, you got him a helmet and pads and watched him and other little boys run around in a park, playing something that only resembled football by name.

But that dynamic is different in the last 10 to 15 years. The fun of football has taken a backseat to the potential aftereffects of football.

That’s because we’re talking about concussions and head trauma and their lasting impact on players of all ages in ways we never did before.

Parents who previously didn’t know the difference between a touchdown and a touchback now know the names of Mike Webster and Andre Waters and Junior Seau, the names of men who are believed to have sustained brain injuries because of football.

Last week, another former football player added his name to the discussion about what happens after playing days are done. His name and his words may carry some significant weight.

Warren Sapp was as nimble and as disruptive a defensive lineman to ever play the game. In nearly 200 NFL games over 13 years, Sapp accumulated more quarterback sacks than all but one player in league history.

Sapp was a key cog of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneer team that won the Super Bowl and he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2013.

Sapp is 44 years old now and in a first-person piece for the Players Tribune, he chronicled how he is forgetting a grocery list or how to get to a friend’s house that he says he has visited 1,000 times.

Sapp recounted in an accompanying video how disgusted he was to hear NFL owners say that there is no evidence that playing football can directly lead to head trauma.

So, towards a goal of making football better, Sapp has agreed to donate his brain posthumously to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for study. He is the most prominent former player to do so, but he will almost certainly not be the last.

Sapp also has suggested that no kid under the age of 14 should be involved in tackling.

It is a radical gambit, one that would shake the game to its core. You can hear coaches reflexively dismiss the idea as unworkable and impractical, a wild pitch, to mix sports metaphors, that would destroy development at the very point where the game needs it.

Maybe. But Sapp’s Swiftian and immodest proposal just might be the thing that keeps football from being destroyed by its most important constituency: anxious parents.

And that’s how I see it for this week.