Is ex-Buc great Sapp angry at the world?

by Gary Shelton on June 26, 2015 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Friday, 9:13 a.m.

Turns out, he was at his calmest on a football field.

Turns out, he was at his most dignified in a helmet.

There, the storm that was Warren Sapp was contained, and all of the violence was with direction. There, there was a use for his bad mood, a purpose for the chip on his shoulder.

Sadly, it is outside in the world where Warren Sapp continues to have his problems.

Turns out, the world seems to be too much of a challenge for Sapp. Oh, no one should expect

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sympathy. There was always a quality of Sapp that was just too rough for those around him.
He could always make others shake their heads or roll their eyes.

He was a great player on the field.

Off of it, he struggles.

Now, Sapp has been charged with three counts of domestic violence, the worst of his offenses. There was the prostitution arrest, which was stupid. There was the bankruptcy, which was careless. But there is an unforgivable meanness about domestic violence. It is as if Sapp is ticked off at the world, and the world had just better move out of his way. The rest of us are all Chad Clifton, and Sapp is fuming in our direction.

Who knows what is next?

He is a complicated man. I have never met anyone as polarizing as Sapp, anyone who is determined to show you both his good side and his bad. In one minute, he could be funny, loud, friendly. Sitting in the middle of a circle, he would have you laughing at all the stories.

Then something dark would pass over his eyes, and in the next heartbeat, he could brush by you without a sound. There is a coldness there, a distance that most of us cannot penetrate. I used to say that I knew him better than most people, and still, I did not know him at all.

Cover a guy for years, and you get to know him. Sapp ad I have argued. We have agreed. We have discussed his place among the fans of Tampa Bay. I watched all of his big plays, and there were many of them, with the Bucs.

And still, if he were to pass me on the street, I do now know if he would acknowledge me.

He could have owned this town. He is smart enough, cartoonish enough, admired enough. He represented the grand rise from a doormat to a champion.

But Sapp never hungered to want that love. The same brutish behavior he saved for an offensive guard, he used for a fan who dared to approach him in a mall. He could be 300 pounds of bad mood waiting to foul up your morning.

"Four out of five people in Tampa Bay," Sapp once told me, "would rather see me fail than succeed."

I disagreed with him then. I'm not so sure now. I think there are a lot of burned fans who revel in Sapp's failures, who think life is just paying him back.

"I have no illusions about my place in this town," Sapp said. "When I'm gone, most people will be happy. It'll be one less 'Mouth of the South' around here. Isn't that what the (letter to the editor of a local newspaper) called me? Yeah, 'Mouth of the South.' I'll just go back to Orlando, go to a lake front and go fishing.

"I'm all alone on my own ground. I've been on a pedestal. I don't want to be on another one. When they kick it out, it's a long way to fall."

When Sapp went into the Hall of Fame – perfect evening I wrote, imperfect man – there were dozens of calls and emails from readers who still were angry about their encounter with Sapp. Everyone seemed to have a story about whatever indignity he had for them.

Someone who used to work with the Bucs once told me it came from the same part of him, the nasty guy on the field and the nasty guy off of it. Other players can turn it off and on, can be charming at a restaurant or during an appearance. Not Sapp. The same belligerence that an opposing quarterback saw, you saw.

It's a shame. You can imagine what could be. This town, like most of them, hungers for a former great it can embrace. Lee Roy is gone. There is Derrick, and Lynch, and Barber.

And who?

Look, I still wish the best for Sapp. We spent too much time talking about the Bucs, about the U, about Derrick and Sam and Dungy and the rest of them.

But Sapp still has to seize control of Sapp.

Otherwise, the headlines will just keep coming.

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