Suspension won’t slow down Fujita
The Associated Press
BEREA — Browns linebacker Scott Fujita admitted being in New Orleans’ locker room when former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams delivered his brutal pregame speech imploring the Saints to target players.
Fujita said Tuesday he was escorting former teammate Steve Gleason, who is afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in San Francisco last January when they attended New Orleans’ playoff game against the 49ers.
Fujita, who has been suspended three games by the NFL for his role in the Saints’ bounty program, had not previously mentioned witnessing Williams’ vicious rant, which became public after it was released by a documentary filmmaker.
Fujita reiterated he feels Williams’ comments were “highly inappropriate.”
“I’m not proud of things that were said by Gregg Williams and at the same time he’s a man I respect and loved playing for, so there’s definitely a conflict with all that,” Fujita said after the Browns opened their three-day minicamp.
Fujita was with the Saints from 2006-09 before he signed as a free agent with Cleveland. He has appealed his suspension, but Monday’s ruling by an arbitrator that commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline players for their part in the pay-for-hits program was a blow to his chances of getting his penalty reduced.
“It’s certainly disappointing, but this is a part of the process,” he said. “You’ve just got to be patient and respect that process and just keep hoping for a positive outcome.”
Fujita has maintained he never contributed money to the Saints’ pool since being implicated in the scandal along with three other suspended players: linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, and Saints defensive end Will Smith.
Vilma, who has been suspended for all of next season, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.
Fujita’s trying to remain upbeat during a personally challenging period when his reputation as an advocate for player safety has been questioned. The 32-year-old serves as an executive member for the NFLPA, a position he has no plans of leaving.
“I accept that responsibility,” he said. “I was nominated a few years ago for a reason. I wanted to be a part of that culture change and help in pushing forward more health and safety measures, getting new benefits for the players and I take that seriously. I can’t walk away from the players on that.”
Because of his higher profile, Fujita realizes he may have been targeted more than another player. However, the 10-year veteran said he wouldn’t conduct himself any differently.
“I don’t have any regrets for anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “You look back and you say things in meetings occasionally. Again, the pregame hype speech and bravado, it’s all kind of funny the next day and you laugh about it. Again, I don’t regret anything. It’s a part of the growth as a man and a football player.
“Again, I’d like to keep this about football as much as possible and eliminate those distractions. Because if you let all that come in and take away from your focus, then you lose perspective.”
Fujita refused to discuss filmmaker Sean Pamphlion’s recent assertions that the linebacker and Saints quarterback Drew Brees knew about his recording of Williams’ speech and pushed for him to release it to help clear the players’ names. Pamphilon is filming a documentary about Gleason’s struggle with the incurable disease.
“A lot of things are personal matters and I’m just going to leave it at that,” Fujita said. “Sean Pamphilon is a very good filmmaker who absolutely wants to affect positive change when it comes to health and safety in this game and I absolutely respect that.”
Fujita acknowledged the past few months have taken a toll on him. However, he has no immediate plans to retire.
He said a recent trip to New York with Gleason allowed him to re-evaluate his situation and regain any lost perspective. They attended a United Nations summit to promote new technologies for ALS patients when they met a young man who in two years raised $75 million to bring clean water to Africa.
“Things like that gives you a sense of perspective, and as much as I’m worried about (my) reputation and all that kind of stuff, you’ve got to have some kind of perspective with this whole thing,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing good things in the community and I’m going to keep playing my best for the team and I’m going to focus on getting better every single day.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Fujita has remained focused throughout his ordeal and doesn’t believe the scandal will sidetrack him.
“He is about his business and I don’t see that being a distraction,” Shurmur said. “He’s an outstanding player in this league and he is dealing with what he is dealing with. It’s a league issue and we support, of course, the league and what it does, and when Scott’s back he will play.”
Browns kicker Phil Dawson offered an even stronger endorsement of Fujita. After playing with him for two seasons, Dawson, who has been with the club since 1999, believes in Fujita’s honesty and integrity.
“There’s not many teammates I’ve had through the years that I hold in higher regard than Scott Fujita,” Dawson said. “I haven’t been here, so I haven’t had the luxury to be able to hang out and talk to him about everything. But he has my full support and I hope this mess gets over soon.
“He deserves that and we definitely want him out here with us.”
Fujita is looking forward to the day when the scandal which has enveloped him is finally over. But until the muddled matter is resolved, he’ll continue to fight for his name and for the rights of the players he represents.
His passion hasn’t diminished.
“There’s a lot that I’ve seen on this journey,” he said. “There’s a lot I’ve been involved in, a lot of conversations and negotiations, and I have a friend now who’s faced with what many people would call a terminal diagnosis. I have a lot of friends who I’ve lost this year. There are a lot of challenges, a lot of conflicts with that. But I still love the game, I still love my teammates, I love playing on Sundays, and that’s what keeps me coming back.”