BEREA, Ohio — Any text messages or conversations that Scott Fujita shared with filmmaker Sean Pamphilon related to the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation were never intended for public viewing, the Cleveland Browns linebacker said Tuesday.
“A lot of those things are personal matters, and I’m just going to leave it at that,” Fujita said after the first day of Cleveland’s minicamp. “But Sean Pamphilon, he’s a very good filmmaker who absolutely wants to effect positive change when it comes to health and safety in this game, and I respect that.”
Fujita continues to be asked about the story that rocked the NFL — the Saints’ bounty scandal. He’s been suspended three games for, the league said, pledging significant money to the bounty pool that allegedly rewarded Saints players for hits that injured opposing players. Three other Saints players were suspended — including Jonathan Vilma for a year — as well as one general manager and three coaches. Among them was Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator behind the plan, who was suspended indefinitely.
Last week Pamphilon posted a lengthy narrative (titled “When You Kill the Head, the Body Doesn’t Die”) in which he wrote that Fujita played an important role in Pamphilon’s decision to release the Bountygate tape of Williams speaking to the Saints before the NFC Championship Game in January.
The tape cause a mini-furor because it included statements from Williams urging Saints defensive players to, among other things, go after a San Francisco player who had a previous concussion and to go after the “outside ACL” of a San Francisco running back.
Pamphilon wrote that Fujita was in the room as Williams spoke that day. Fujita admitted he was present with former Saint Steve Gleason, who now suffers from ALS. Pamphilon wrote that Fujita told him he was appalled at what he heard.
“He texted that he was once ‘semi-complicit” in that in that culture. which made him feel even worse,” Pamphilon wrote. Pamphilon even included a photo of a text from Fujita to the filmmaker in which Fujita called the NFL “that meat-head culture” and said the tape was “an indictment on the culture, a big part of which is still archaic and has yet to evolve.”
“Those are all very personal matters,” Fujita said, adding that he understands the words of a coach or player in “pregame hype” can sound “outlandish.”
“There are things that have been said that are highly inappropriate, I get that,” Fujita said. “Whether players take that seriously or not, I don’t know and I don’t think so.”
Pamphilon wrote that he struggled with the decision to release the tape and, once he finally did, was then abandoned by those who supported the idea, including Fujita.
Pamphilon painted a picture of Fujita as a conflicted player caught between his ardent and heartfelt support of a former teammate and friend with ALS (whose condition might have been caused by hits to the head) and his role as a supporter of the players and advocate for player safety as a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee.
Asked if he felt conflicted, Fujita said they were “personal matters.”
Fujita has worked tirelessly for the charity/educational movement Team Gleason (composed of the Gleason Initiative Foundation and The Gleason Family Trust). Last week, Fujita sat next to Gleason as he spoke to a United Nations medical conference and said, “Save my voice, my lungs, and my thumbs, and I promise to change the world.” Fujita has been deeply involved in every community in which he has played. He has never had a reputation as a dirty player, and his work in various causes is noteworthy. Fujita recently expressed frustration that the league broke news of the bounty scandal in New Orleans at the same time he was enjoying the birth of his third daughter, Marlowe.
“I’ll continue to do good things,” Fujita said.
The story of Gleason sitting in a wheelchair and listening to Williams with Fujita right behind him is dramatic, as Pamphilon told it. He wrote that the two listened impassively, though both smiled when Williams handed out envelopes, evidently with money, and players yelled, “Give it back.” Both were filmed by Pamphilon because Gleason is the subject of his documentary, “The United States of Football.”
Pamphilon wrote: “15 minutes after the meeting ended, I was sitting at a table in a room where players and coaches were sampling from a buffet. Scott Fujita and Gregg Williams exchanged pleasantries, as his former coach passed by with a plate of food. Fujita looked at me and said under his breath, ‘I can’t believe I used to be that guy,’ referring to once being part of the scene we had just witnessed.”
Fujita said Tuesday that, although he’s not proud of what his former coach said, he enjoyed playing for Williams.
Pamphilon wrote that Fujita initially left the decision to release the tape to the filmmaker, then urged for its release “sooner the better” after an NFLPA Executive Committee meeting. Tuesday, Fujita referred questions about the release of the tape to an NFLPA statement, but such a statement does not appear on the NFLPA website. The NFLPA evidently thought it was wise to release the tape because it felt it would indict Williams and show that players were merely doing what a coach had told them to do.
Pamphilon wrote that Fujita and he knew while listenting to Williams “we had witnessed a criminal act.” At one point, Fujita texted Pamphilon to say he was “kind of actually excited” about the tape going public.
Fujita’s consistent stance about the bounty program was that the league had no proof. When the league asked Pamphilon if it could view the entire video, Fujita texted: “I would ignore the NFL if I were you. They clearly want the tapes to see if there’s anything they can use to further implicate players, mainly because they don’t have (anything), other than (hearsay) and anecdotal evidence of tough talk. I’ve been denying their request for an interview for weeks now because there’s nothing good that can come out of that. . . . No more NFL talk. (Heck with) them.”
An arbitrator ruled Monday that commissioner Roger Goodell did have the authority to discipline the players for their role in the bounty system. The players, and the union, filed an appeal.