White was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He played high school football at Howard High School under Coach Robert Pulliam, a former defensive lineman at Tennessee. During his senior year, White recorded 140 tackles (88 solo) and 10 sacks, and received All-American honors. He was rated the number one recruit in Tennessee by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
White played college football at the University of Tennessee from 1980 to 1983. He had worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of his freshman year, in which he registered 51 tackles (32 solo) and two sacks, recovered two fumbles, and blocked a punt that set up Tennessee’s first score in the team’s 23-10 win over Georgia Tech. He was awarded the “Andy Spiva Award”, given annually to the Vols’ most improved defensive player.
As a sophomore during the 1981 season, White registered 95 tackles (61 solo), a team-leading eight sacks, and a team-leading seven tackles-for-loss. He also blocked three extra-point attempts. He had 10 tackles and two sacks, one of which resulted in a safety, against Memphis State, and was named the team’s “outstanding defensive player” for the game. For his performance in Tennessee’s 10-7 win over Georgia Tech, which included a late fumble recovery that sealed the Vols’ victory, he was named “Southeast Lineman of the Week” by UPI. White had eight tackles in Tennessee’s 28-21 victory over Wisconsin in the 1981 Garden State Bowl, and was named the game’s “Best Defensive Player”. At the end of the season, he was named to the Sophomore All-American team by The Football News.
White was named a Preseason All-American going into the 1982 season, but was consistently bothered by an ankle injury, and his production dropped off. While he registered just 47 tackles (36 solo), he nevertheless led the team with seven sacks, and was third only to teammates Mike Cofer and Carlton Peoples in “big plays”. His best game of the season came in the Vols’ 24-24 tie against LSU, in which he registered eight tackles, including a sack and a fourth-down stop. He had eight tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in Tennessee’s 28-22 loss to Iowa in the 1982 Peach Bowl.
Determined to improve upon what he considered a disappointing junior campaign, White erupted during his senior season in 1983, registering 100 tackles (72 solo), a school single-season record 15 sacks, 9 tackles-for-loss, and an interception. Although Pittsburgh defeated Tennessee 13-3 in the season opener, White consistently kept the Panthers’ offense off balance, in spite of being lined up against the Panthers’ All-American offensive lineman Bill Fralic. He had two sacks in Tennessee’s 31-6 win over New Mexico, and a school single-game record four sacks in the Vols’ blowout win over the The Citadel. White was named “Southeast Lineman of the Week” for his disruptive performance– which included 12 tackles and three sacks– in Tennessee’s 20-6 win over LSU, and he twice sacked Alabama quarterback Walter Lewis in Tennessee’s 41-34 win over the Tide. In Tennessee’s 30-23 win over Maryland in the 1983 Florida Citrus Bowl, White sacked heralded Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason in the second quarter, knocking him out of the game. White was a consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and a Lombardi Award finalist.
During his tenure at Tennessee, White registered 293 tackles (201 solo), 32 sacks, 19 tackles-for-loss, four fumble recoveries, and seven batted-down passes. As of the 2013 season, his 32 career sacks and 15 sacks in a season (in 1983) remained school records. His school single-game record of four sacks (against The Citadel in 1983) stood until 2013, when Corey Miller had four and a half sacks against Kentucky.
After college, White signed with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. He played for Memphis for two seasons, starting in 36 games. As a member of the Showboats, he racked up 23.5 sacks, 198 tackles, and seven forced fumbles.
When the USFL collapsed in 1985, White was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, which held his NFL rights. He played with the Eagles beginning in 1985 for eight seasons, during which he picked up 124 sacks, becoming the Eagles’ all-time sack leader. He also set the Eagles’ regular-season record with 21 sacks in a single season (1987). White also became the only player to ever accumulate 20 or more sacks in just 12 games. He also set an NFL regular-season record during 1987 by averaging the most sacks per game, with 1.75 sacks per game. Over the course of his tenure with the Eagles, White actually accumulated more sacks than the number of games he played. He was voted by ESPN Sportsnation as the greatest player in Eagles’ franchise history. In 1991, he set the record for most passes defended in a single season by a defensive lineman with 13, a mark that has been since broken by JJ Watt.
In 1993, White became a free agent. He was signed by the Green Bay Packers, where he played for six seasons. White notched up another 68.5 sacks to become, at the time, the Packers’ all-time leader in that category (second now to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who has 74.5 registered sacks). White was also just as valued for his role as a team leader. He helped the Packers to two Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. That victory was the only championship in which White ever shared at any level. In 1998, White was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2000, he came out of a one-year retirement and started all 16 games for the Panthers. White had five and a half sacks and one forced fumble while with the team. He again retired at the end of the 2000 season.
At the time of his retirement, White was the NFL’s all-time sacks leader with 198. (He has since been surpassed by Bruce Smith, who has 200.) Counting his time in the USFL, White has 221.5 sacks in top-level professional football, making him professional football’s all-time sacks leader. White also recorded three interceptions, which he returned for 79 yards. He recovered 19 fumbles, which he returned for 137 yards and three touchdowns. His 9 consecutive seasons (1985–1993) with at least 10 sacks remain an NFL record. He was named an All-Pro for 13 of his 15 seasons, including eight as a first-team selection.
White appeared on screen at two professional wrestling events, wrestling one match. In April 1995, he was ringside as part of Lawrence Taylor’s “All-Stars” for his match against Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania XI. During the show, he participated in one backstage segment with the All-Stars, calling out Money Inc. member Irwin R. Shyster. Before and during the actual match, the All-Stars and Money, Inc. teams were involved in a scuffle, in which White participated.
On May 18, 1997, White wrestled his only professional wrestling match for WCW at Slamboree. He wrestled fellow NFL (and LT’s All-Star team mate) alumnus Steve McMichael. The two men emulated football tackles during their bout. White received a warm response from the professional wrestling crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, but nonetheless lost to McMichael after being hit with a steel Zero Halliburton briefcase secretly given to McMichael by his valet (and then-real life wife) Debra McMichael.
White became involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes while at Tennessee, and expressed an interest in becoming an evangelist as early as his sophomore year in 1981. He became an ordained Baptist minister during this period. He had acquired the nickname “the Minister of Defense” by the time he was a senior.
In White’s last year of football, a friend reportedly gave White a teaching CD from Messianic teacher Monte Judah. Following his retirement, White began studying Torah and Torah-observant Messianic theology. White also studied Hebrew under Nehemia Gordon. In October 2003, White was interviewed by Messianic teacher and televangelist Michael Rood, and he discussed his studies of Torah. The interview was broadcast on February 4 and 6, 2005, on the Sky Angel cable channel. Following White’s death, the January 2005 edition of Messianic magazine Yavoh was dedicated to him as a “Messianic Believer”, leading to confusion regarding White’s religious beliefs. Some reported— incorrectly— that White had abandoned Christianity and was studying Judaism. White was touched by the African American church arson scares during the mid-1990s. The Inner City Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, where White was an associate minister, burned to the ground in 1996.
In 1996, White starred with Pat Morita in Reggie’s Prayer, a Christian film. He plays the main protagonist, “Reggie Knox”, a football player who retires after the 1996 season to become a 10th-grade language arts teacher and head coach of a high school football team in Portland, Oregon. The film also had appearances by his Packers teammates Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren as janitors, and Keith Jackson as an assistant coach. M.C. Hammer plays a park ranger.
White created a stir in March 1998 with his comments before the Wisconsin state legislature, invoking racial stereotypes of Latinos, Asians, whites, blacks, and Native Americans. He stated that these diverse “gifts” of each race, “formed a complete image of God […] because He was trying to create Himself.” An image that society had pushed aside, leading to the aversion of racial unity. He specified that, “without assimilation, there’s no desegregation, nor is there integration, because people of all ethnic backgrounds have to be able to compete economically in order to build their families.”
In an interview with ABC’s 20/20, White made comments about gays and lesbians. White became an ally of organizations opposed to homosexuality; he appeared in a newspaper advertising campaign to convince gays and lesbians that they could “cease” their homosexuality. As a result, CBS withdrew a five-year, $6-million contract for being a part of the pregame panel because of his statements calling homosexuality a sin. Both the Green Bay Packers and the NFL objected to the ads, since White had appeared in his football uniform without the consent of the team or the league. Later versions of the ad removed the uniform.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, White was rushed from his home in Cornelius, North Carolina, to a nearby hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina, where he was pronounced dead. White had suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. The most likely cause of this, according to the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office, was the cardiac and pulmonary sarcoidosis with which he had lived for years. It was also stated that sleep apnea, which White was known to suffer from, may have contributed to his death. His grave site is situated at Glenwood Memorial Park, Mooresville, North Carolina.
- December, 19, 1961
- Chattanooga, Tennessee
- December, 26, 2004
- Cornelius, North Carolina
- Glenwood Memorial Park
- Mooresville, North Carolina