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The world according to Sapp

By BILL MAXWELL
Published October 19, 2003

I could not let Warren Sapp's $50,000 flap leave the scene without putting in my 2 cents. (A trip to my favorite barbershop on Thursday convinced me that I should weigh in. Whether you agree with them or not, black barbers and their customers have a way of putting tough issues, even life, in perspective.)

Sapp is the Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive tackle who cannot keep his mouth shut and control his antics.

Do not get me wrong. I like Sapp. A Florida boy myself, I have followed Sapp's career. I regularly saw him and his Apopka High School teammates beat up on rival schools in Orange, Lake and Seminole counties. I regularly saw him play for the University of Miami. And, of course, I have seen him play in Tampa.

Although I like Sapp, I wish he would just shut up and start acting like an adult.

Some background: Before the Bucs' game against the Washington Redskins, Sapp did his usual bunny hop onto the field. This time, he shouldered a game official. On Tuesday, the NFL fined Sapp $50,000 for the bump. Peter Hadhazy, NFL director of game operations, who levied the fine, said he will suspend Sapp for at least one game if he continues to act out.

"It is apparent that you deliberately made contact with the official," Hadhazy wrote in a letter to Sapp. "This misconduct occurred even though you had been strongly advised . . . only days before to refrain from taking actions during the pregame warm-ups that were disruptive to your opponents, disrespectful to the game and in violation of league rules regarding unsportsmanlike conduct."

The league said also that Sapp used excessively abusive language toward officials in two other games.

Back to why Sapp should shut up and behave like an adult.

First, because his athleticism speaks for itself, he does not need to run off at the mouth and act silly.

Listen to a league Web site description of the Pro Bowler: "The most feared and intimidating figure in the NFL. . . . Can single-handedly take over a game and has been the point man for arguably the league's most dominant defense over the past five seasons. . . . Provides a measuring stick for every defensive tackle that comes into the league. . . . His speed in the trenches is unmatched and his passion for the game is limitless. . . . Despite facing double and triple teams on virtually every down, he plays every play like it might be his last. . . . Relentless pass rusher. . . ."

A player with this kind of natural born right stuff, along with the respect of his peers, does not need to add his mouth and juvenile behavior to the mix.

Here is the second reason that Sapp should cut the crap: If he is suspended for a game for nongame actions or words, his absence will hurt a Super Bowl championship team that has a better chance of repeating if its best players are on the field.

If Sapp gets himself tossed, it will prove that he is a selfish meathead who does not give a damn about the team and its loyal fans.

Now, the third reason Sapp should tone down: He has introduced the race card into a situation that is not about race. During a pregame interview on CBS, Sapp accused the NFL of being the "slave master" for ordering him to curb his pregame foolishness.

Is Sapp - who earns millions of dollars to play a game - suggesting that he is a black slave in modern America? The accusation mocks black history and insults the NFL. The NFL would not tolerate such behavior from a 300-pound white defensive tackle, either.

Unfortunately, Sapp's black teammates are rationalizing their pal's behavior, arguing, as did Keyshawn Johnson, that the league is "picking on" Sapp. Derrick Brooks even hinted that Sapp is being "unfairly judged."

If truth be told, Sapp has played out an ugly stereotype of black athletes: Too many whites view them as a bunch of overpaid, loudmouth, showboating clowns and ignoramuses.

Sapp voluntarily introduced race when it did not apply. How could he compare the NFL with U.S. slavery? Immaturity? Ignorance? Stupidity?

Whatever the answer, Bucs coach Jon Gruden needs to use his famous Chucky glare and rein in Sapp who clearly is out of control. Gruden must step up. Bucs fans deserve to have the league's best defensive tackle on the field on every snap count.

(I wonder what the brothers at the barbershop are saying after reading this column).

[Last modified October 19, 2003, 02:03:50]


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