Former Buc Warren Sapp to donate brain to concussion research

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After years of hard blows on the football field, former Tampa Bay Bucs player Warren Sapp announced that he plans to donate his brain for concussion research. He's also advocating to make football safer for the youngest of athletes.

The Hall of Fame defensive tackle has been vocal about his struggle with the after-effects of all the hits he took in his career. Sapp said he wants to leave the game of football better off than when he started.

"We used to tackle them by the head, used to grab face masks," Sapp said in a video for The Players' Tribune. "We just banged and banged and hit and it was, 'who's tough?' and 'misery loves company' and all the foolish sayings we used to say to each other."

After 13 years in the NFL, Sapp is now tackling a different opponent: the consequences of repeated concussions on the field.

"I wanted this game to be better when I left than when I got into it. That's the reason I am donating my brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation," Sapp said.

The 44-year-old said he made the choice after reading quotes from NFL owners saying there is no correlation between football, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and suicides.

"I mean, where are you getting this information from? And then, spewing it out as if it's fact," Sapp said.

Sapp opened up about his fears and struggles with memory loss.

"There's no way any of us want to admit that we can't remember how to get home, or a grocery list the wife has given us, or how to go pick up our kids at school, or whatever it may be," Sapp said. "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," Sapp said. "I need help. I need somebody to help me find something that I could have found with my eyes closed, in the dead of night, half asleep."

Sapp is also advocating for youth football safety and to eliminate tackle football before high school.  

Dr. Eric Coris, a Sports Medicine Professor with USF Health and USF's Concussion Center says the vast majority of athletes he treats are in high school. While some can withstand thousands of concussions, others can suffer long-lasting effects from just a few.

"There's still so much that we don't know about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy," Coris said. "What athletes are at risk for that?"

Unfortunately, for now, the only way to diagnose CTE is by studying brain tissue after death.

"The biggest thing we can do to help these athletes is probably recognized those athletes who are concussed. Get them out of a playing situation and don't let them return to play until they've fully recovered," Coris said. "The bigger thing would be recognizing those athletes that are impaired., whether they just seem a bit off in the huddle, they are a little bit confused, they have a headache. Being watchful for those situations can be really helpful in protecting a child from a catastrophic injury."

Warren Sapp joins a growing list of players vowing to donate their brains. The Concussion Legacy Foundation said researchers with the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank have diagnosed CTE in 91 out of 95 former NFL players.