Former NFL player Warren Sapp filed for bankruptcy on March 30, and his story seems to have gotten a big boost from The Associated Press:

“Former NFL star Warren Sapp owes more than $6.7 million to creditors and back child support and alimony, according to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in South Florida. Sapp’s $6.45 million in assets includes 240 pairs of Jordan athletic shoes worth almost $6,500; a $2,250 watch; and a lion skin rug worth $1,200.”

The anonymous AP writer felt that 240 pairs of Jordans, a watch, and a rug were somehow integral to Sapp’s story. Although these items did not even total 10,000 dollars, they were integral to the article’s response. The AP reprinted story produced over 5000+ ESPN comments filled with racial ridicule, while other outlets seized the sneaker angle. The line about “back child support” was also a big hit. A sampling:
  • dvolpe_87: “A black man doesn’t pay child support? What is the news here?”
  • texansfan5687: “what is it about ‘African American’ men and not paying their child support?? When are these people going to start taking some social responsibility for themselves?”
  • NYGhTMar3: “I’m tired of seeing alot black athletes spending MILLIONS of dollars of typical bullshiiiii’…

    (note: comments containing racial slurs are quickly scrubbed out by ESPN)
If many commenters saw “Black athlete” instead of “athlete”, it came with a big assist from the author. A closer look at both of Sapp’s assets and liabilities show that he is hardly broke — at least compared to the recent NFL bankruptcy disasters named Bernie Kosar and Mark Brunell.
$250,000  =  Sapp Net Liabilities
$9.7 million = Kosar Net Liabilities
$19.2 million = Brunell Net Liabilities
Despite a debt 80 times that of Sapp, the Associated Press never even issued a story about Mark Brunell’s bankruptcy despite a Wall Street Journal report and lawsuit claims of a $25 million against him. Local reports about Brunell were often framed with favorable quotes that emphasized Brunell’s  “trusting… weakness” (“He looks for the best in people“) or his extensive charity work. As for Kosar, his Associated Press report was handled with care, brevity, and without itemization of petty expenses:

“Kosar owes almost $1.5 million in “unsecured debt” to the Cleveland Browns… owes his ex-wife Babette $3 million and $725,000 (from a personal loan) to the owner of the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League. He owes a bank more than $9 million for bad real estate deals. The 45-year-old Kosar got divorced in 2007 and last year saw his steakhouse go out of business.”

Unlike Sapp, sports reports of Brunell and Kosar were most often framed as victims of both bad business investments and an external economic recession instead of individual failings around personal spending behavior. However, Kosar’s divorce proceedings tell a different story:
“In 2007, Kosar’s wife, Babette, filed for divorce. She accused him of acting ”financially irrationally and irresponsibly” by ”giving away money,” according to court documents. ‘It [the divorce] has been a public disaster, with him being accused of several addictions, of erratic behavior and of giving away the couple’s money.’”

Kosar’s alleged “irrationality”, “irresponsibility”, and “addictions” never made into any sports sections, nor his failed support or mention of his own children. Conversely, the final line of Sapp’s Associated Press story on Sapp ended in the same spirit that it was started:

“[Sapp] was arrested in 2010 following an alleged domestic violence incident at a Miami Beach hotel. He would have faced one count of misdemeanor domestic battery, but prosecutors declined to prosecute, saying in court documents that there were inconsistencies in the victim’s statements and evidence.”

Despite no conviction or relevancy to his bankruptcy, this was an important inclusion to the AP writer. As such, Sapp’s story is being held up as the latest media ”cautionary tale” — a more common media response to Black athlete misbehavior.

Sapp is not just an individual story – but part of a longer media narrative. Not an “athlete” narrative, but largely a Black athlete narrative. Depending on the journalist and outlet, that narrative could be subconscious or conscious (like Sapp’s AP author). The same can be said for caring gentle touch afforded to Brunell and Kosar during their difficult times. Buying into such narratives without critical analysis of media and stereotypes is the real “cautionary tale” for readers.

Should you still doubt the power of such media reporting on racial narratives, see how many of these media “cautionary tales” on bankruptcy  highlight both Brunell and Kosar in their articles instead of long dead white QBs

Or you can just spend some time in sports Internet comment sections to get a richer flavor on the color of misbehavior…

Or you can do neither and simply conduct your own personal sports fan poll on athletes and bankruptcy, and tally how many times “Mark” and “Bernie” come up despite 30 million combined reasons to remember them.

Finally, the human empathy and privileges received by Brunell and Kosar may have also extended beyond media coverage. Despite being released by the Saints, 40-years old, and unemployed at the time of his bankruptcy, Brunell was still able to receive a tw0-year contract with the New York Jets. Shortly after news of Kosar’s bankruptcy broke, he was then signed as a consultant with his old team, The Cleveland Browns.

As it stands, Sapp’s current NFL Network announcer contract ends in August, and early indications are that it will not be renewed.

2 Responses to Bankrupt: Warren Sapp Not Reported Like Bernie Kosar and Mark Brunell

  1. CDF says:

    Yeah, the AP and their like-minded ilk aren’t sources of info I tend to look for. I’m glad I keep my distance from anything media-driven and the ESPiNners message board was the place I actually heard about Sapp’s finances…go figure! As for Brunell and Kosar…SMH!

  2. Simon says:

    This is a great article. Racial insight is often hard to come by because a lot of it is also subconscious, but we need to bring it to our conscious attention.

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