Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is one of the four former and current New Orleans Saints players suspended for their alleged role in the bounty scandal that has dominated headlines this offseason. Fujita, who was suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season, maintains his innocence.
The four players appealed their suspensions on Monday, June 18. Fujita spoke for the first time since that appeal hearing Friday morning on SiriusXM's Edge of Sports Radio. Below is an edited transcript of that interview.
Did you do what the league accuses you of doing?
"No, absolutely not."
What is your impression of the evidence that the NFL accrued?
"I think it would've been nice to have the opportunity ... to try to talk it out and explain where the misinterpretations are from their end. I looked through all that stuff closely. I know exactly what [happened] and what didn't. The problem with this whole thing is that it's just an unfortunate situation where you have a defensive coordinator [Gregg Williams] who I like a lot, but said a lot of really vulgar, inappropriate, outlandish things. You couple that with some guys who occasionally throw in some money for big plays -- which I have admitted to doing -- and it becomes a perfect storm, and also it comes at a time politically when I think the league was looking for something like this.
"So, it's unfortunate. It's unfortunate that a lot of players have been dragged into it when the reality is it's just a kind of loose, joking around, performance-type system of motivation coupled with some really, really inappropriate language that I'm sensitive to, but again, it is just language."
The way that Greg Williams spoke in the locker room, is that something that was unique to the New Orleans Saints?
"No, not at all. I think that [Williams] had his own way of explaining things, putting exclamations on things which were probably pretty unique. Everywhere I've been, there's been a lot of that, I think less now than there used to be because the culture is changing, people are more sensitive to these issues."
But you are saying that it was just language and bravado and in no way a kind of "pay to hurt" system.
"Absolutely. I was there for one year in 2009, and, without question, there was nobody paying or receiving any money for causing injury. I've talked to enough guys who I'm close with who were there for the seasons after I left, and it's the same thing.
"People said I was stupid for confessing to paying for big plays. I didn't think of that as a big deal. Is it against the rules? Technically, yeah, it's against the rules, but that's the way it was done when I was a young player and I'm not ashamed of that. If that's what I'm going down for, let's call it for what it is. The problem is that the league has billed this thing as being this super-organized pay-to-injure scheme, which it never was.
"Now, it turns out when the evidence is getting released that there is actually very little to nothing on anything pay-to-injure related, especially as it pertains to me. So, again, if it's pay-for-performance, let's call it what it is, and if I have to take my medicine for that, I'll do that, and we'll move on, but that's not what the league has billed this as."
How do you explain the discipline then? Do you think it's connected to current litigation, in which over 2,000 former players are suing the league for withholding information about the harm that repeated concussions could cause while they were playing?
"Yeah, I don't disagree with that at all. I think this is kind of the perfect storm, where you have an unprecedented lawsuit coming down on the league, a coach who says these wild things, and players who on occasion throw some money in there for some big plays. The league, they are just masters at pushing liability elsewhere. They're very good at what they do. They are very bright, and they are very good businessmen."
Originally the league said it had 22 to 27 players it could prove were part of a bounty system, and then it becomes four suspended. Why have you been singled out? Is it because you've been outspoken on player issues?
"A lot of people have asked me that exact question over the last couple of months, especially in the last week, and then even more so in the last couple of days. ... The league acknowledges in the disciplinary letter that they have nothing on me regarding any payment for injury. It's a little curious. But again, it is what it is right now. I can't control that part of it. So right now I'm just in favor of whatever we have to do to get the truth out on the table."
What's it been like personally to be at the center of this?
"It's been very hard, and it's unfortunate just because of the timing of it all. My wife and I had a new daughter a few months back, and the same day we were in the hospital my name was leaked to the media, totally unsubstantiated. It was hard because I conducted myself the right way my whole career. I stand for a lot of things, especially when it comes to player safety. So, for that to come out with no merit whatsoever, was really difficult. Then, as things progressed, it got worse and worse, and in my opinion, it's kind of a public smear campaign that keeps growing and growing and spiraling out of control. It's tough to go toe-to-toe when someone's actually trying to prove a negative, and it's a difficult thing to try to prove your innocence. I can say what really happened and what didn't happen, but it's just tough to do it that way.
"Another thing I have a hard time with is that a lot of people just say, 'You only have a couple games [suspension]. Just be glad with what you got. Stop complaining and move on.' It's more than just a couple games. My reputation is a lot more valuable to me than three game checks. So for someone to say 'just take your medicine and move on,' my response is no. If you're accused of something you didn't do, and they were going to not only ruin your reputation, but also take a lot of money away from you, you would not just lie down. So it's troubling. It's been hard for me. It's been a stress at home. I'm lucky to have such a supportive family with young kids who don't understand any of this kind of stuff so that brightens my day, but it has been very hard for me."
If you could say anything to Roger Goodell right now, what would it be?
"I saw him in the [appeal] hearings and he offered to shake all of our hands. Some of the other players didn't, but I went ahead and shook his hand, and I just said to him, 'What the hell are you doing, Roger?' He had nothing to say. His face sure turned red, though."