Since last spring, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita maintained he never participated in a pay-to-injure program during his days with the New Orleans Saints.
On Tuesday, he was vindicated.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the second round of appeals, cleared Fujita of conduct detrimental to the league and vacated all player discipline in the Saints’ bounty scandal. Even though he overturned the suspensions, Tagliabue did not exonerate free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove, Saints defensive end Will Smith and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
“I conclude that Hargrove, Smith and Vilma — but not Fujita — engaged in ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football,’ ” Tagliabue wrote in his decision.
Fujita, who played in four games this season before landing on injured reserve with a potential career-ending neck injury, said he paid former teammates for making big plays, including sacks and interceptions, but never contributed money to a pool that allegedly paid them for intentionally injuring opponents. Goodell accused Fujita of contributing funds to a pay-to-injure program when he gave him a three-game suspension May 2. The suspension was later reduced to one game and Goodell backed down from his original accusation, but Fujita, 33, wasn’t entirely cleared until Tagliabue issued his ruling.
Tagliabue concluded it’s “undisputed” that Fujita did not participate in a pay-to-injure scheme. He ruled Fujita’s separate pay-for-performance pool is not conduct detrimental to the league.
“The League urges that merely offering rewards for big plays — in which Fujita engaged ‘while a respected leader of the Saints’ defense and role model for other players’ — clearly violates the NFL Constitution and Bylaws,” Tagliabue wrote. “I find the NFL’s contentions lacking in merit. In dealing with pay-for-performance pools that appear comparable to Fujita’s pool, the League has emphasized club responsibility for ensuring player compliance with League policies, and has disciplined clubs — but not players — for non-compliance.”
Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 before signing with the Browns in 2010, did not immediately reply to an email from the Beacon Journal seeking comment. But he interacted with several of his teammates on Twitter after the news broke.
Tight end Benjamin Watson tweeted, “Congrats to the whole [Fujita] family! Should have never been put through this whole ordeal but I know you’re stronger for it. Love y’all.”
Fujita replied by tweeting, “And thanks to you and all the guys in the locker room for your unwavering support.”
Kicker Phil Dawson tweeted, “Absolutely thrilled for my teammate Scott Fujita. Great guy. Great player. Great outcome.”
And middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson added on Twitter, “Thank you NFL for leaving his legacy intact. Stand-up guy, who I’m blessed to have been around.”
Tagliabue wrote his findings could justify fining Hargrove, Smith and Vilma, but obstruction by the Saints ultimately led to him deciding against it.
“This entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization,” Tagliabue wrote.
Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, is a noted player-safety advocate. It’s one of the reasons he fought so hard to clear his name.