By Tony Grossi
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said he’s appealing his three-game suspension by the NFL to save his reputation, but he would not answer whether he intends to sue the league for demation.
Fujita is charged by the NFL with pledging “a significant amount of money” to the alleged New Orleans Saints “bounty pool” during the 2009 postseason. The money, the NFL said, was for “cart-offs” and “knockouts” on plays “during which an opposing player was injured.”
Fujita previously denied his involvement in a strongly worded written statement distributed on May 7.
His comments after the Browns’ first OTA practice on Tuesday were his first spoken on the subject.
Fujita is permitted to participate in all activities leading up to the season opener on Sept. 9. His three-game suspension would cost him about $645,000.
“Listen, my reputation is a lot more valuable to me than three game checks,” he said. “My track record speaks for itself.”
But when asked if he would follow the path of former teammate Jonathan Vilma, who has sued Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation, Fujita would not tip his hand.
“Jonathan Vilma is incredibly bright,” Fujita said. “He’s a man of very high character, and he’s got a lot of pride. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. I’m proud to call him a friend. I wish him the best in whatever he wants to do.”
Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season. Former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove was suspended for eight games and Saints defensive end Will Smith received a four-game suspension.
In his original statement, Fujita said, “To say I’m disappointed with the league would be a huge understatement.”
He expounded on Monday, “When the news first broke I was in the hospital, with my family, my daughter had just been born, and I had to hear something through a back channel media person about some investigation that has been going on for a couple years and I was never even alerted about it. And I had a problem with that.
“Since that time, the idea of being on a public trial is a difficult situation to be in. It’s our word against theirs. That’s frustrating. The reality is I know what actually happened and that’s why I can stand by those statements.”
Fujita said he has never been presented any evidence of the accusations by the league. He would not say if he has any evidence disproving them.
“Right now, it’s just my word against theirs,” he said. “Can I go to bed at night look myself in the mirror and know what happened? Yes. But it’s an uphill battle. Can I go toe to toe with the media and all that stuff? It’s a challenging prospect.”
As a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, Fujita has been a staunch advocate for player safety. He realizes the accusations paint him as a hypocrite in the court of public opinion.
“I have a master’s degree in education,” he said. “One of my goals is when I’m done playing I want to go back and I want to teach. If this kind of thing prevents me from being able to be hired, I’m not OK with that.”
The NFLPA is grieving the suspensions on the grounds that Goodell should not be the one to rule on the players appeals.
Fujita said the next step in the appeals process is a hearing in Philadelphia on May 30.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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