The reports of physical and verbal altercations in the Buccaneers locker room between former Bucs stars Warren Sapp and Chidi Ahanotu have floated around for years and are legendary.
The main NFL headline over the last few days has the situation in Miami where offensive lineman Ritchie Incognito allegedly bullied Jonathan Martin to the point where Martin left the team because of the emotional distress. On Wednesday, when addressing the Martin-Incognito issues, former Buc wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson tossed out a grenade, comparing the Sapp and Ahanotu feud to what is going on in Miami.
Johnson speaking on 95.7 FM The Game in San Francisco told the hosts Sapp bullied Ahanotu.
“Chidi Ahanotu played with me in Tampa Bay, and I used to watch Warren Sapp do some similar things to Chidi Ahanotu,” Johnson said. “Now I’m saying this on the record, and it’s going to go all over the country after I say this. I used to watch him try to bully Chidi Ahanotu, OK? Because he felt he was more superior than Chidi. So one day, you know what Ahanotu did? He got up and he told him, ‘Get your you-know-what in the middle of the floor right now. I’m tired of it.
“And at that point guess what Sapp did? He sat down. And then everybody else in the locker room, me,the Derrick Brookses, the Brian Kellys, we all said, ‘Good for you, man.’ [Sapp] didn’t want no part of it. Until you stand up for yourself and don’t allow these chumps to do that sort of stuff to you, they’ll keep doing it. That’s the way bullies are.”
PewterReport.com spoke to Ahanotu late Wednesday night about the complex relationship between the two.
“Sapp was a bully, and I have no idea why he is trying to say that he isn’t,” Ahanotu said. “It’s like, ‘Come on man, just admit it.’ Everyone knows he was a bully. Call anyone in that locker room, the front office the coaches, even the janitors. Go ask them. Sapp was a bully.”
“But he is going around acting like this big jovial teddy bear for the nation to see. Why doesn’t he just admit it? Call a spade a spade. Everybody knows what Sapp is about. Where are the people who claim he is a golden boy? Everybody knows what he is about.”
Ahanotu said the good guy image Sapp portrays on television is not the true Sapp.
“Nationally they build him up to be the face of the NFL, and he is the jovial teddy bear, hanging with the super stars and all that stuff, so the national media has made him into a good guy, a card,” Ahanotu told PewterReport.com. “But it is all about making money. They have decided they can make money off of his personality. From the organization all the way up to the media, they have all swept these things aside and said, ‘It doesn’t matter how much of a jerk he is or a bully, he is one of the greatest to ever play and that is what is important.’ As long as he doesn’t do that act of his in front of the important people then it is all right. So the brand and the corporate sponsors – and you know his act on the air is as edgy as you can get – but they like that controversy right? But he doesn’t take it as far as he did in that locker room.”
In a report by ESPN.com Sapp went on the defensive after the Johnson reports began making national news.
“Check the source,” Sapp said. “I’ve been in the locker room with Chidi for many years. If you know the nature of the beast, don’t be surprised by what it does. He had plenty of time to say whatever he wanted to say about Sapp up until this point. Warren was just as hard on you as he was on himself. I think Derrick Brooks and anyone else that’s been in that locker room will tell you. I’ve been called everything under the sun in this town.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard that and why do you think that is?
I think I helped him get paid. And then when he got his 10 sacks, didn’t come to the offseason conditioning, yeah, I tortured his [butt] because we needed him here in the offseason. If I was going to be here every day, why wasn’t he? He got his $30 million deal, I got my $36 million deal and we were out there in the same dirt. But he still says I’m his brother because he knows I was right to get on his [butt] about not being here.”
Despite the verbal sparring between the two, Ahanotu said that the issues in Miami happen frequently in NFL locker rooms, and are part of life in the NFL.
“No matter how much the NFL tries to make the sport we play into this politically correct world, the underbelly is always going to remain the same,” Ahanotu said. “That is the nature of the game we play. But now with Incognito and Martin, this has been going on for years. It is just that he has gotten his out in the national media. It has been a way of weeding out the weak and meek. It is a dog-eat-dog world in the NFL. And guys are going to check you. They are going to test you. They are in the trenches with you, they go to battle with you so you are going to get tested. You are going to go through the rite of passage. If you deserve to be out here with us then you are going to get it. And if you aren’t going to give it back then you are going to wilt like Martin did.
“It is almost a necessary evil for our sport man. This is as close as you can get to gladiators; this is as close as you can get to going to war. It is violent out there man. I am trying to take your head off. You can make it as glossy and pretty and commercial – but there are some blood and guts going on out there. So no it shouldn’t be changed. Now I am sure they are going to do something about it because it doesn’t look good.”
While Ahanotu confirmed the bullying that Johnson made mention of, he said his problems with Sapp and Martin’s situation was somewhat different, and that he didn’t feel like a victim.
“I wasn’t sitting there like some victim cowering in the corner, I was giving it back to him the whole time,” Ahanotu said. “And we went head-to-head and toe-to-toe all the time. And it is not just me, he did that with a lot of people. We went at it. I would check him and he would check me. I would say, ‘Sapp get your fat ass going.’ I remember he came to camp all out of shape one year and I was on him. I was older than him and I was one of the only people that would give it to him.”
Ahanotu was adamant that Martin could have stopped the harassment himself.
“See Martin could have handled it like me,” Ahanotu said. “There has to come a time when you have to be like, ‘(expletive) you man.’ Let’s go and you have to stand up for yourself.”
Ahanotu said despite the bad blood between the two, there is a bond between them that was built through the locker room issues – and time spent in the trenches. Ahonotu wasn’t sure if Sapp would have his back today, but would like to think so.
“Sapp was my brother and if he ever called and said he needed something I am going to be there,” Ahanotu said. “I have three sons now and they fight all the time but if somebody ever tried to do something to one of their brothers, then it is going to be a bad day for that guy. I would hope so. I don’t really know the answer to that question. But in my heart of hearts I believe Sapp would be there for me. I know that cat has love for me man. The thing is he wants to be backpedaling, but just say the truth, you were a bully. But in the end I would like to think he would be there for me in the end.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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