Lawyer Peter Ginsberg wasn’t the only one who had tough words for Commissioner Roger Goodell at Monday’s appeal hearing in the bounty case. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was far more brief, and far more pointed.
“I saw [Goodell] in the [appeal] hearings and he offered to shake all of our hands,” Fujita told Dave Zirin of SiriusXM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio, via SI.com. “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?‘”
How did the Commissioner respond?
“He had nothing to say,” Fujita said. “His face sure turned red, though.”
So much for the draft-night man hugs.
Fujita also addressed the merits of the situation, echoing the notion that the Saints had a pay-for-performance system coupled with tough talk but no deliberate intent to injure.
“I know exactly what [happened] and what didn’t,” Fujita said. “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.”
Fujita apparently wants the NFL to focus on what the program was, and to clarify what it wasn’t.
“People said I was stupid for confessing to paying for big plays. I didn’t think of that as a big deal,” Fujita said. “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.”
Fujita explained that the issue is about more than the money he’ll lose during a three-game suspension.
“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,” Fujita said. “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.”
The good news is that the discussion of the actual or perceived flaws in the NFL’s investigation could be prompting the league to focus on precisely why the players are being disciplined — for contributing to and participating in a pay-for-performance system that created an incentive to inflict injury on opponents (regardless of whether they actually did) and not for deliberately attempting to inflict injury in exchange for cash.
The bad news is that it’s too late to put the bounty toothpaste back in the tube. The Saints were painted as a marauding gang of Gilloolys in March; calling it what it really was in June will do nothing to change the perception that has been cemented into the public’s collective consciousness.