BEREA: At the moment, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita looks like a hypocrite.
He knows his reputation has been damaged. All it took were nine little words — “I can’t believe I used to be that guy” — in the rambling, 10,000-word essay posted on documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon’s website Thursday.
Pamphilon described his decision to release the audiotape of former Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that could provide the NFL its most solid evidence in the team’s bounty scandal. Pamphilon said Fujita encouraged him, thinking Fujita had the blessing of Steve Gleason, a former Saints player now battling Lou Gehrig’s disease who is the focus of Pamphilon’s film.
Fujita admitted Tuesday that he was in the room for Williams’ speech on Jan. 13, the day before the Saints’ playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Fujita said he escorted Gleason during a visit to California. Pamphilon wrote that 15 minutes after Williams’ profanity-filled rant, which encouraged defenders to go after 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree’s ACL, tight end Vernon Davis’ ankles and quarterback Alex Smith’s and running back Frank Gore’s heads, Fujita uttered the nine little words to him under his breath.
“There are certainly things that are inappropriate that have been said,” Fujita said Tuesday after the Browns’ first minicamp practice. “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.”
As for the nine little words, Fujita said, “A lot of those things are personal matters between people who were friends. Yeah, there was a time in pre-game hype speeches that you say things that are a little bit outlandish at times. But, again, that was way back in my 20s.”
Pamphilon said after Williams spoke, he passed out envelopes of money to players as others shouted, “Give it back.” Fujita and Gleason smiled, Pamphilon wrote.
Now Fujita the crusader, the champion of player safety as a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, looks like a phony.
Fujita seems complicit, even if he did not contribute money to a bounty fund during the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning season in 2009, as he asserts. The nine little words seem to indicate that Fujita, a team captain for three of his four years in New Orleans, knew that performance incentives were being offered, even if it wasn’t for cart-offs and even if it wasn’t his money.
I can’t see how Fujita will avoid sitting out the first three games this season unless a legal miracle absolves all four players suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
But I can see how Fujita got to this point without being a hypocrite. I can see how Fujita’s feelings on player safety might have evolved through his 10-year NFL career. It’s possible the Saints’ bounties and Gleason’s disease could have prompted Fujita, 33, to cross over from the NFL’s dark side.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into what Browns kicker Phil Dawson said about locker mate Fujita on Tuesday. Although Dawson acknowledged he hadn’t attended offseason training activities so he hadn’t been able to talk with him about “everything,” Dawson said, “There’s not many teammates I’ve had through the years that I hold in higher regard than Scott Fujita.”
Fujita said he doesn’t “have any regrets for anything I’ve ever done.” He implied the tone set by Williams used to be common.
“There have been things that have been said that are highly inappropriate,” Fujita said. “I get that, but whether the players take things like that seriously or not, I don’t know and I don’t think so.”
Fujita said he has not thought of relinquishing his role with the NFLPA, even though that offers the public more chances to criticize him.
“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. I take that seriously and I can’t walk away from the players on that.”
Fujita seems conflicted in a way, turning his back on his old Saints’ friends and the way he used to play. Not all may embrace his desire to change a culture that could rob players of their mental faculties, if not prematurely end their lives.
He seemed to agree that what he’s been through has led him to what could be considered an awakening about football, even if it sounds like heresy to his peers.
“There’s a lot I’ve seen on this journey,” he said. “There’s a lot I’ve been involved in, a lot of conversations and negotiations. I have a friend now who’s faced with what many people would call a terminal diagnosis and I have a lot of friends whom I’ve lost this year.
“Yeah, 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.”
Fujita was a complicated man before a complicated scandal surfaced. In New Orleans, it appears he compromised his principles.
But who’s to say they wouldn’t have been swept up in the same culture in pursuit of a Super Bowl ring, only later to realize the error of their ways?
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.