Even Warren Sapp is concerned about the game of football. The Hall of Fame defensive tackle wrote on The Players’ Tribune that he’ll be donating his brain to concussion research after his death, noting that he’s already started to feel the effects of the hits he took in his career.
I’ve also started to feel the effects of the hits that I took in my career. My memory ain’t what it used to be. And yeah, 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. 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 was known as a tough and very hard player in his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, which only underscores that worrying about brain deterioriation isn’t about toughness and vague notions about masculinity.
More and more current and former professional players start to voice their concerns over brain damage as a consequence of playing football. And yet, there’s a lot of pressure on players to exacerbate that brain damage by, among other things, skirting the concussion protocol. Not being on the field will hurt both their image as well as their earnings, after all—we see similar pressures when it comes to painkiller abuse.
As long as the NFL isn’t willing or able to address those structural pressures and problems, the commitment of high-profile (former) players like Sapp won’t do all that much to change things—but it can at least raise some awareness, and contribute to research.