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The best part of Warren Sapp's legacy is gone, along with his fortune

Warren Sapp had charisma to spare, but he spent a good deal of his time snarling at the fans who wanted to love him.
Warren Sapp had charisma to spare, but he spent a good deal of his time snarling at the fans who wanted to love him.
Published Apr. 10, 2012

Gone. All of it, gone.

Warren Sapp has worked his way through most of the fortune and most of the good will. He has lost both his championship rings, and almost all of the opportunity to be admired forever.

For Sapp, 39, all that remains is a house filled with sneakers, a life filled with debt and a plea for the legal system to make his problems go away. Everything else has vanished as quickly as his youth.

Sapp, poor Sapp, is broke.

The best part of his legacy, it seems, is broken, too.

Once, there was just so much to the former Bucs defensive tackle, so much size and so much talent and so much money and so much fame and so much life and, yes, so much anger. Tampa Bay has never seen a more charismatic athlete. Sapp was part Shrek and part Godzilla; no one laughed louder or snarled more fiercely.

Sadly, much of his perpetual bad mood was aimed at the people who tried to admire him the most. There is no way to pretty it up: In public, Sapp treated a lot of people badly. He never had time for diplomacy or grace. He never seemed to trust the applause or believe it would last.

It's a shame. I've said it dozens of times: At his best, Sapp could have owned this town. Most people in Tampa Bay wanted to love the part of Sapp that was torn out of a comic book character. In return, he treated fans the same way he treated opposing quarterbacks: Rough. Rude. Blunt. All of the descriptions fit.

But bankrupt?

Who saw that coming?

For goodness' sake, how much money does a man need? In his career, Sapp signed three contracts: The first was for $4.4 million. The second was for $36.05 million. The third was for $36.46 million (although he fulfilled only four of the seven years). It seems as if that should get a man into his 40s. And that doesn't count money for endorsements or appearances on Dancing With the Stars or talking on the NFL Network or up-front fees as part of a book deal.

With Sapp, these are the unanswered questions: What happened? Where did it all go? How does a man go from rich beyond imagination to having $6.7 million in debts? How could a life so large slip through his fingers?

Even now, Sapp has a job that pays $540,000 a year, and he claims $6.4 million in assets. He'll get to keep his house and his NFL pension.

That's broke?


How is it even possible for a man with such assets to file for bankruptcy? It feels like a rich person's mulligan, to tell you the truth.

Maybe that's why it seems so hard for so many to muster any sympathy at all for Sapp. Have you seen the online comments? There are some who seem delighted that Sapp has fallen heavily. Karma, some say. Payback, others say. No one seems to be putting together a telethon to help pay his bills.

All things considered, that may be the saddest part of Sapp's plight. No one seems to think it's sad. Maybe if he had been a better guy, maybe if he had let Tampa Bay love him, more people would feel his pain today.

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No, Sapp isn't the first athlete to make a lot of money and, subsequently, lose a lot of money. Some make bad investments. Some have too many hangers-on. Some gamble it away. Some like the nightlife and like to boogie. Some collect cars and houses.

For whatever reason, they find themselves owing more money than they can pay on time. Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy once. So did Mike Tyson, and Willie Nelson, and Michael Jackson, and Donald Trump.

So where did Sapp's money go? Shoelaces, maybe.

Of all of the odd items in the appraisal report that was filed by Sapp's attorney, even odder than the lion skin rug or the "large nude woman painting," there is this. Shoes. And shoes. And more shoes. In all, there were 240 pairs of Nike Airs, many of them still new in the box and scattered across the house. Thirty-five pairs in the living room, 78 pairs in the master bedroom closet, 27 in the laundry room, and so forth.

The harsher revelation is that Sapp owes almost $1 million in unpaid support for his six children (two with his ex-wife). It's easy to excuse a lot of debt, but not child support.

Then there is the mystery of the missing rings. Sapp says he cannot find either his winning ring from Super Bowl XXXVII or from the 1991 University of Miami national championship. (Maybe he should check the shoeboxes?)

When you remember how much Sapp loved his Super Bowl ring, that raises an eyebrow. "I wear it 365 days,'' Sapp said back in 2003. "I carry it with me. I am the champion, and d--- it, I will display it at all times.''

Where does Sapp go from here? Who knows. There are reports that his contract with NFL Network will not be renewed. If he cannot get his spending under control, this will not have a happy ending. Instead of pointing to him as a standard of how to play, he will be a model of how not to spend.

The rings. The regard. The reputation. The riches. Sadly and swiftly, Sapp has lost it all.

When you think of the way it might have been, it feels as if Tampa Bay has lost something, too.


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