Warren Sapp is Not a Champion, Yet. He is an Asshole, though.

For four or five years, I’ll admit, something I heard about Warren Sapp has bothered me.  Sure, he and I do not know each other.  At a point last year, @QBKilla retweeted me, but I think he was mocking me, which in turn, pissed me off, and I wrote him off as, well, pretty much what he is:  A jock asshole.  His twitter girlfriend, @nflchick may not be a jock, but was certainly an asshole as well.  I made a barbecue comment to Sapp, to which they both replied that I was “thirsty,” ghetto talk for horny and hard-up.

I had sort of tolerated his insulting running commentary to others because I was interested in what makes grown athletes act like idiots.  Turns out, the reasons top players become lesser individuals isn’t always by following  the same path.  How we deal with controversy and hardship separates us and makes us who we are.  We are either Warren Sapp or Michael Irvin.

Irvin is no angel, I know.  I live in Dallas, where the stories are many and detailed.  I have professional athletes in my circle of friends.  I don’t know anyone who has known him in the last 15 years who has anything but glowingly positive things to say about Irvin, his history, his mission in life, and his contribution to youth athletics in our area.  However, the news this week is not about Michael Irvin.

It has come to light this week that Sapp has had several financial debacles since retiring from his hall of fame career in the NFL.  From not paying what he owes to the women who bore his children, henceforth referred to as “baby-mamas” to a variety of odd purchases and quirky items mentioned in the Yahoo article conjuring images of Imelda Marcos, Sapp was making millions a year, and had nothing to show for it.   My guess is, @nflchick is not one of the women to whom he owes money, as her allegiance is firm.  Congratulations, Warren.  @Nflchick is all yours now.  I hope she turns out to be a talented, driven individual with character, but the ghetto iconography of her profile didn’t necessarily reflect that to me.  I was not “thirsty” after all; I really only meant  to be cordial and supportive.   You know, you can be ghetto and still not be an asshole.

Warren, and others, it’s not that I want you to be role models for my children.  I just think you need to know:  You can be successful and not surround yourself with trash.  You can be successful and not be a jerk.  You can be successful and not keep being a loudmouth idiot.  What eventually happens when you do act like a jerk, is that there will be dozens of fans you’ve been an asshole to who are happy to point out that you deserve that and probably much more.  They are people like me, who lived right by the rules, happily, because they simply knew it was the right thing to do.  Even so many people who have had serious problems with drugs, violence, and/or the law, have shown growth after the fall.  People like Mike.

What may surprise readers is that while I’ve carefully followed sports for years, baseball is really my favorite sport as a fan, for a variety of reasons, but mostly having to do with the complexity of the game.  Baseball fans get this; generally football fans think it’s boring.  I came to know who Sapp was on accident.  As a staff member, I had been at an after-game party several years ago where a celebrity made an appearance, a former NFL player and graduate of the U, he was someone who has known Sapp for 20 years.  As the beer and stories flowed, I made a mental note to make sure to look up Warren Sapp because he sounded like a real character, by this account anyway.  Judging from the jaw-dropping reactions of those who were present who DID know of Sapp’s career, I picked up that there was a fair amount of shock to hearing what he was “really” like.  I’ll admit, it could all be complete baloney.

The truth is, too, that he filed bankruptcy because, he says, “Do you think I wanted to file bankruptcy?  It was either that or go to jail, and I am NOT going to jail.”  No, Sapp, you’re either lying or flat wrong.  You filed bankruptcy because you are a person who didn’t pay child support.  They put people in jail for that, not as an option to filing bankruptcy.  I cannot believe a reporter didn’t say anything, but it reflects something I’m sure I’ll write about in a future blog:  Sports Journalists, Please Stop Anointing Warren Sapp’s $500 Sneakers.  Or Something; I haven’t decided on a title yet.

Here I am, of course, trying to consider the greater good, and I’m just now reasoning that if he went to jail, that might be the best thing to happen for the kids of deadbeat dads everywhere.  Maybe if deadbeats  saw a famous deadbeat like Warren Sapp having to pay consequences for fathering kids he can’t take care of, then they would try to avoid that situation in their own lives.  But, no, I’m not surprised.  He is filing bankruptcy because he is not going to jail.  I have a bad feeling that he is about to skate on payments to his kids.  That’s not just sneaky and  irresponsible, that’s just plain mean. 

It’s unfair to think that we all sat there after that game only talking about Warren Sapp.  Ray Lewis was mentioned, too,  someone whose career I HAD known about previously.  As a resident in Dallas, home of the Cowboys, I had long been a fan of the Baltimore Ravens.  I admired Lewis’s grit, his leadership ability, and I recognized his contribution to a Ravens franchise that basically put them on the map.  It’s no secret that as a fan, I also enjoyed hearing about how brutal he could be.  I’m not going to say that Lewis has been a beacon of good decision-making, either.  Please.  He was in serious criminal/legal trouble years ago.  He seems to have put that behind him.   Probably at issue is that Lewis is still playing.  Once he retires, we may see that he is as irresponsible as anyone.  I doubt it, only for one reason, and that is to become a franchise player the way he has, he is someone who put down roots in Maryland.  Putting down roots requires commitment, but really goes beyond that into what others think of you.  If The Ravens Organization didn’t want Ray Lewis to be the face of Baltimore, he certainly would not be. 

After I looked up Sapp on Google, it was funny.  His NFL profile was not a link that was the most often hit.  It was a link to a barbecue show he was hosting called “BBQ Grillmasters.”  Well, I love barbecue almost as much as baseball, so I couldn’t wait to see this guy out of his native football element.  Yeah, Warren Sapp and I are just alike because we like barbecue.  I wasn’t kidding myself, but it was awesome.  I loved what he had to say.  I thought he did a good job (you know, some athletes just don’t have the charisma to pull off a gig making public appearances).  Sapp was truly “all that.”  I decided when I joined the Twitterscape that I would follow @QBKilla, among many others. 

I was excited until I started reading his tweets.  He was crass and disrespectful in general, but I remember a particular series of tweets between himself and a number of others including Mark Schlereth over the Tim Tebow deal.  Schlereth is someone I truly admire, despite what assholes like Sapp have to say about him  Say what you will, Sapp, Schlereth walks the walk and is a real man who raised his kids.  Now, I never got why Tebow was so in the news and even now that he is with the Jets, I could care less.  I kept asking everyone, “Are the Broncos any good?!” underscoring that we seemed to be heaping a lot of coverage time onto the story that didn’t seem to be a story to me.  My estimation is that Tebow will have a place in a pulpit eventually and be wildly famous and good at it.  But pulpit talk doesn’t require thinking on your feet the way Schlereth and Sapp both have to do all the time.  So, see, you shameful idiot Sapp, you have talent and capability that Tebow may never have.  But do any of us see Tebow impregnating women he doesn’t care about, then not paying child support while he owns 250 pairs of $500 sneakers?  I am not bringing up spirituality at all.  I’m talking about ethics and intellect.

Which brings us back full circle to the party after the game, in which incendiary  comments were passed along, surprisingly awful stories of Sapp never having passed a drug test “in his life” (which I know can’t be true), to his being high “all the time,” even when he played in the National Championship,  to his “obvious” involvement—since there were others not publicly named— in Uncle Luke Skywalker’s  pay-for-play scandals during those years at the U, to his “early draft” because he was not going to make it through a private four year program any other way.  When he went into the draft a year early, he was a very hot commodity indeed, but it is possible that he wouldn’t have been eligible to play his last year.  

His career was a fantastic one in the NFL.  Sapp continues to be a host of several important sports broadcast venues that I still watch, but really don’t respect as much as I used to.  I don’t hate the guy at all, even if he was insulting me without my having done anything except be a fan on Twitter.  Twitter is not the real world, and being around jocks for a long time, I’m lucky he didn’t say something else even worse.

I guess.  I  mean, is that all I should expect of professional athletes?   That their insults don’t become unwieldy?

It really isn’t hard to find out about student athletes behaving badly.  If you have kids in gangs on your team, and they continue to wear gang colors despite the regulations that it is not in keeping with the team image and uniform (not to mention illegal in some communities), then coaches have to take the blame if they let them play, having broken even the most minor code.  Coaches know what their kids are up to, even the big 20-something ones in college.  Story after story has emerged this year bringing up improper behavior (at best) and unethical pattern-behavior (a medium-level offense in sports, as we are disappointed to read about daily) and, I think it’s apparent, repeated criminal conduct on campuses which directly involves supervisory staff (worst case, but so serious, it has to be dealt with).

Oh, it’s hard to say this, knowing so many jocks and professional athletes.  Having spent a lifetime in gyms and playing  sports, and as a child of a college athlete who at age 85 calls baseball games to this day, we use mantras with words like “excellence,” “pride,” “champion,” “dedication,” but it is the unwritten law that athletics would take care of their own despite what we painted on the weight room walls for inspiration.  In schools, many times  teachers are told “The first thing you do is talk to his or her coach.”  Years ago, I expected results if a student athlete were struggling in academics or behavior.  Frankly, I still do, but I’m not too sure about what some younger coaches have in mind.  They themselves may have been (ah-hem) coddled by their adult role models while playing, too, if they were talented.  This is hard to say, but we do still all know it, the vast majority of athletics programs provide a double standard for people like Warren Sapp.  I’m talking to everyone including myself when I say that, we are not doing our jobs as mentors when we fail to adequately monitor and guide our students.  And that doesn’t mean just not getting into trouble.  It means that your expectations of behavior are so very high that a student who is burning up to play will NOT jeopardize his athletic career or scholarship opportunities by doing what we see them do too often:  take advantage of their stature at the campus to do bad stuff.  Bad stuff.   Not Tebow stuff.  Gangs.  Drugs.  Violence.  Unplanned babies.  All bad.

I am a mentor who has seen the direct ramifications befall a student athlete who was “above the law” on several occasions.  Possibly the best chance this particular inner city school had at seeing one of its own go on to bigger and better things that year, he had TWO babies, gang tattoos, and two arrests his sophomore year for violent offenses.  He had good grades, though, and was actually quite literate given the circumstances of his life.  When he got into trouble (before the arrests and babies), his football coaches tried desperately to help him out of minor scrapes by pretty much sweeping it under the rug.  When I tried to counsel him, really being direct, he took offense and avoided me. Then, rumors swirled that he had impregnated another girl, at which point I had to go ahead and sever ties.  Had the coaches done so, too, he might have learned a lesson.  However, this one really thought he would get into Oregon with numerous dependents, pending legal action,  and his 10th grade neighborhood gang handle tattooed on his neck because his coaches kept him on the field.  They had to if they wanted to win football games. 

His mother told me she didn’t want him to stop being a child. I didn’t know how to tell her that with a record, kids and any real hope for opportunities slipping away, he was experiencing so many of the hardships grown ups face, and I think it was safe to say, he was grown.  Don’t get me started on the ruined lives of the baby-mamas, or the babies he is supposed to take care of.

What I have seen too, too many times is a talented student athlete, starting to test his or her boundaries, trying to feel special to some degree, wanting to be a star.  As they start to experience poor decision-making, it is absolutely imperative that we stop it.  Completely.  Right then.   If that means that the young person is out of the program, that’s better than ruining the lives of others as they destroy their way to fame on the gridiron.  I don’t think of the innocents still in the program who lose out on a winning season, but those innocent ones who were pushed aside by the likes of Sapp in the scholarship race who never even got the chance. 

I was so sad to watch the Sandusky/Penn State story unfold.  Had people done ONE simple thing—that which was RIGHT—the entire issue would have been done, and dozens of presumed victims would have been protected.  If I were in charge of a program at any campus, at any age, in any town in North America, I would make sure that my students left me having learned  that coaches, above all others, play by the rules.  When they don’t, they not only ruin the lives of those baby-mamas, the term itself- so disrespectful, and the lives of resultant offspring of their idiocy, but they ruin the lives of their athletes. Well, just look at how it all turned out for Sapp and his families.

In reality, what I keep facing is athletic staff that would lie to your face right now if they were asked if they ever covered up for an athlete.   And no one seems surprised except me.  From others on the campus, comments like, “Well, yeah, they are football.  This is Texas.  Get a grip” really make me wonder if it is possible to do what’s right by student athletes at all.

Again.  Is this all I can expect from athletics in shaping lives?  Maybe I do need to get a grip, but I’ll be damned if I play along.  It’s football in Texas, but this is Dallas, and I was raised to call it like I see it.  So, for the record, while I’m on it, the Cowboys are not good at football and the team suffers because of the ego of its ownership.  It’s what everyone who wants to see the program improve really wants and needs to hear.   It isn’t hard to tell people you are charged with leading that they are messing up and going to pay a price, and MEAN it.  It really isn’t.  How ANY university program is still accepting illegal donations and payments to student athletes is egregious.  I’ve never even used that word, but the truth is that they know what to do to avoid it:  Stop allowing it to happen.  The NCAA has a role to play for us all here, but if you’d read Sapp’s tweets, he seemed sure that the program was locked up tight, no loose lips in Coral Gables.  There seemed to be no remorse, and what was worse, no one expected there to be. 

The NCAA has done much in the last quarter century or so to help curb the unethical behavior brought to light in scandals from USC, to SMU, to the U.  From tightening codes to strengthening and clarifying the verbiage, the NCAA is clear that it will not back off.   Some university recruiters are asking for more information from potential recruits about how many dependents they have, how many arrests and for what, and the depth of obligations that the potential may have to gangs.  This is an important step for me to feel comfortable calling a program excellent or dedicated.  It is an important step to help students and their parents see that having children that you can’t care for is a serious problem for poor families, one that won’t go away with a multi-million dollar contract.  It is easily corrected behavior that keeps poor people poor, and we take on an enormous parenting responsibility if we work in the inner city.  Coach, you may be the only person in the world who shows that student how to make their way through all the temptations in the world with dignity and self-respect.  

Unfortunately, what happened at some universities, and I’m talking about the U here,  was that they looked for ways to make sure they could avoid consequences by remaining silent, protective, unified, and, of all things, proud.  In other words, bringing the scandals to light, they got even better at cheating, at taking it underground.  I’m not talking about Michael Irvin, who was several years their senior at the time and perhaps more devastated by what happened at his alma mater in the 90s than the ones involved.  People involved in the scandal at the U will say to this day, “We because we could get paid.  SMU had just been busted a few seasons before for exactly that, so we looked for the schools that hadn’t been in trouble.”  Now, in fairness, that was in 1990 give or take a year, the year those players and their families expected to earn for making plays.  But it was still after the SMU scandal broke and everyone knew why.    Even now, Irvin is shattered to learn of bounty instances in New Orleans because here is a guy who would probably like to be able to defend his life’s work and be able to call athletes and coaches the best people on earth.   I believe like Michael Irvin, I think we can build better programs and character, and frankly, make a better world through athletics and athletic thinking.

But not if people like Sapp, Gregg Williams, and yes, even Paterno, are allowed to continue to show players the best ways to avoid consequences to meet the short-term goal of a winning season.  If we have not learned it yet, coaches, if we are still arguing that everyone does it, that this kid or that kid has it SO bad at home that it makes it explainable to expect less, or if we fail to address that our star junior QB has just had his third child from a different baby-mama, we are not excellent, proud, champions, or dedicated.  A coach who turns his head on serious issues of character, especially involving his athletes, is not a great coach.  That coach is a wimp, no matter what his record for the season.  I cried when he died, I really did, but I wish Paterno were here right now to tell you if he felt like a champion in hindsight.

So what do you think the student athletes have to say about their behaviors when they grow up?  Well, I can tell you that the ones who may have skated by the system, the ones like Warren Sapp, who is 40 years old now and fully capable of making better decisions, like paying court-ordered child support, blame the system for many of the problems, and they certainly blame the system for being caught.  After a press release from Yahoo sports last year on more improprieties at the U, more violations of NCAA rules, I thought to myself, “The best thing that could happen over there is if they lose out on something that is important.”  Everyone points to the kids who went with good intentions, the ones who aren’t guilty, that harsh punishment won’t solve the problem, as if the NCAA has a special addendum that allows for these exceptions.  

Haha, I’ll bet that isn’t the case at all, that harsh punishments don’t work.  If harsher punishments are not levied, and teams still act like it’s ok to let an 18 year old drive a booster’s Hummer and live in his beach house, while concurrently abandoning his children and baby-mamas, then I would challenge that the NCAA is letting them do it and isn’t serious about making it stop.   I was unable to hear the voices of those innocent student athletes, by the way.  I even tweeted to several outlets asking if even ONE Miami athlete could stand up and say they were innocent.  All I heard was that they were really angry that they got caught.   One person I am fairly certain who was not involved in the release of the head football coach and other issues around the investigation, was Sapp, whose career and age difference would have rendered him obsolete.  So, are you wondering if Sapp showed growth last summer, when the U went under scrutiny again for violating THE SAME Rules and Regulations that brought shame on them in the 90s?  Do you wonder what Sapp tweeted?

“Hurricanes unite!”  “They’ll never get us!”  and like-minded reminders that blind loyalty somehow beats out intense scrutiny of these programs.  You know, Sapp, if you love the U, you would not want the NCAA looking at them all the time that way.  I just can’t believe you think you’re that clever.

There is simply not enough time for me to point out how disappointed I was that he didn’t say, “My school needs to get back to its core values and stop cheating.”  You know, that one assurance we all want and need to hear.  No, Sapp went on a days-long tweet frenzy, pointing out how every school does it, but they pick on the U…  Wow.   He didn’t say this in 1994.  No, he was saying this, albeit via Twitter, in 2011, as if there were never any problems before, as if that program hasn’t learned its lessons.  I thought then, how stupid CAN a person be and still have a job? 

Preaching responsibility to my students over the years, I do not think it should be optional to take care of your children.  Once you have one, they are what your life is about.  Not football, or American Idol, or the Bloods, or anything else.   I’m not alone; the courts don’t think so either.   But somehow,  an elite millionaire athlete with a private east-coast education got through the system with no sense of how to take care of his own most important business, the part off of the field.  His children will have most definitely suffered.  His wives, ex-wives, and baby-mamas are probably still suffering.  What does it take for Warren Sapp to say, “I am sorry.  I was wrong”?  I only hope that he loses at least one of his positions on television.  It will be very hard for me to look at him, knowing he is such an asshole.

I truly hope that the days are gone where we used to say, “Yeah, he’s  illiterate, has three kids, in a gang, and has a slew of arrests for robbery, assault, and drug possession, but he can play ball, so let’s give him a spot.”  Further, shame on all of us, fans included, for pushing programs so hard to win that we stopped caring if we would ever be able to call ourselves winners.  If you think it makes you tough to brag about a winning alma mater, then you probably were never coached well as an athlete yourself.  And if you were an athlete, and you wish your team  would find a way to keep signing these half-done  kids from the ghetto, you can count yourselves as part of the problem.  Raising our expectations of what constitutes civil and productive interaction in sports is the only way to win this time.  That isn’t just me talking.  In Texas, it’s the UIL.  In colleges, it’s the NCAA. 

I do believe in forgiveness as an important part of growing up and moving past hurdles.  I think that when cocky, arrogant athletes haven’t had that stellar career materialize in the future, it sends a message to be more introspective and self-aware at a younger age.   Warren Sapp had the stellar career, though.  Am I willing to forgive Sapp and be a fan again?  Yes, I actually am, because as a leader of young people, I know how wonderful this power of forgiveness is and if he were to show growth instead of clinging to the way things have always been, then I can say that he is a man.  He needs to make right with his kids and family, of course.   But it would be a healthy start.  And it wouldn’t hurt the U to start over, either.

But I think, too, we need to all take a deep breath and forgive ourselves.  We all have our moments of bad judgment. But, doing something wrong doesn’t make us unethical.  Having a fight in a bar and destroying property, etc., that’s wrong.  Having your teammates cover up for you over it is unethical.  When we are fully grown, we learn from our bad decisions and hope no one else suffers.  If the reason any one of us turns away is out of guilt because we think we can’t cast stones lest our glass house should shatter, it is time to stop thinking that we can’t make better choices starting now. 

You can tell this is intensely personal advice, but the kind of advice that I used to receive when desperately needed from my own coach, Mrs. Sue VanTrease.  She saw us being disrespectful to others, acting like tramps, using vulgar language, and she summarily, swiftly, redirected us by saying, “I don’t think so.”  Her way of saying “I don’t think so” was to suspend us from games.  And it hurt us.  And we bonded.  And we did learn to behave.  And we respected her then as now.

Currently, though, suspending a player almost certainly causes a storm of issues for coaches in public prep level programs due to bad parental decisions to demand reinstatement.  I won’t deny that a student was never wrongfully suspended from an activity at all.  I believe that number to be quite low in the modern high school because institutions have been well indoctrinated on fairness and sensitive issues.  Where Sue Vantrease’s words were “I don’t think so,” her actions spoke much louder. 

When coaches and administrators have proof of an athlete misbehaving to the point that they are no longer comfortable having the student represent the school, parents need to really listen to their advice.  Taking up for your kids no matter what is a poor parenting choice that they may be thanking you for later from county lockup.  There has been no county lockup for us on Sue Vantrease’s team in 30 years.

That all said, our parents never interfered with her decisions, either.  If one of us felt wrongly suspended, it really reverberated that even the slightest hint that we were not representing HER team the way she thought appropriate was something that we would try very consciously to avoid if we wanted to play.  There was no wiggle room, no debate.  In the inner city, though, it is true:  tighten the program expectations too tight and many will quit.  I don’t really blame the students at the prep level where many have only ever seen their own role models quit when the going got tough.  Great coaches like Sue Vantrease will steer athletes back on track to the best of their ability, regardless of the circumstances of their births, as it should be. 

All of the bad news this past year in sports regarding ethics and beyond, and particularly football at the pro and collegiate levels has had an effect on me.  That is, I didn’t watch football this season.  With bad, I mean, extremely bad, news happening over the summer and fall, the lockout, all of it making Sapp look pretty good, it seemed to me that my money and time could be better spent elsewhere.   Sure, I live in Dallas, where it’s easy to stop watching football for a season.  I can only describe the feeling as heartbroken.  I was heartbroken to know that some of the programs and players I’d enjoyed following from afar were letting themselves down like that.  The true champions will rise to the occasion and stop being assholes, even if they have been unashamed of it before.  If you do, I’ll write a nice and flattering blog about it here.  Seems I am picking on Sapp and the U, but they make themselves so topical.   And anyway, south Florida has to move on to its newest asshole:  Ozzie Guillen.






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