Culpepper weighs in on NFL obesity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Tampa, Fla., police officer pulled over Brad Culpepper's car awhile back and couldn't believe what he found inside.

Was it really Brad Culpepper?

"Are you the football player?" the cop asked.

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It was, only he didn't exactly match the picture of the guy on the drivers license. Forget the faulty headlight, should the cop arrest somebody for stealing about one-third of Culpepper's body?

Wherever it went, a lot of other ex-football players would be smart to follow.

Most people remember Culpepper as Warren Sapp's sidekick on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line. He was 280 pounds of beef and bravado.

These days, he operates out of an eighth-floor office with a great view of Tampa. Culpepper is a lawyer for Morgan & Morgan, the ubiquitous personal injury law firm. Clients see the old magazine covers and action photos on the wall, and say that can't be the same chiseled guy in front of them.

"They're astonished," Culpepper said.

He retired from the NFL four years ago, then retired 80 pounds in eight months. Culpepper didn't get sick. He got smart.

"It's not how much money you make," he said. "It's who lives the longest."

That realization slowly is hitting his previous profession. The death of San Francisco lineman Thomas Herrion three weeks ago fired up the obesity debate.

Are football players super-sizing themselves to death? A certain smooth-faced attorney has become Exhibit A in the debate.

At all levels of football these days, bigger is better. The NFL acknowledges there's a hugeness issue but says it needs more study.

How about when a guy looks like he just ate Orson Welles?

"These are grown men. If they want to retire and weigh 400 pounds, that's their choice," Culpepper said. "Roll over and be dead. But I think it's sad."

Fifteen years ago, 39 players on NFL rosters exceeded 300 pounds. At the start of training camps this year, there were 552.

Culpepper should also live long enough to at least see his three kids graduate from college. Herrion never will. There's no indication what killed him,, but he was listed at 315 pounds and probably weighed at least 15 pounds more. The issue only is going to grow because it hardly starts in the NFL. Teenagers hardly can get recruited to college nowadays unless they weigh 280 pounds.

"Maybe it's totally unrelated to the size issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody dropped dead in the middle of a game," Culpepper said. "Especially with the heat. Your heart can only pump so much stuff."

Even if nobody drops dead, you don't have to be Jenny Craig to know obesity leads to long-term problems. The NFL should at least educate the players on the risks.

"They're still convincing guys that they're fit at 340 pounds," Culpepper said.

They think they're just running for the border.

In reality, they're running for the coroner.

David Whitley is a sports columnist at The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel.