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Fujita on the NFL and Player Safety: “The hypocrisy infuriates me.”

Scott Fujita is embroiled in the NFL’s bounty controversy as a former member of the New Orleans Saints. Fujita spoke to Peter King in an effort to set the record straight that he paid out for “interceptions, sacks and special teams tackles inside the 20,” rather than plays where guys were injured or knocked out of the game.

It is important for Fujita to be out front on this, because he was more than willing to be out front during the lockout calling out the owners for hypocrisy on player safety issues. This is from a letter he wrote that was re-printed on websites across the country including his own.

And this season, when it comes to player safety, the NFL suddenly pretended to be the flag-bearers for our health and well-being. This comes after years of denying even the possibility of a link between the game of football, concussions, and long-term traumatic brain injury. And despite the raised level of awareness concerning our post-career health realities, they still want two more games and haven’t even suggested any improvements in post-career care. Their hypocrisy infuriates me. Right now we get just five years of coverage after leaving this game. Five. And that’s only if you’re lucky enough to become vested. In the meantime, more and more of our brothers fall victim to ALS, dementia and depression, among other afflictions. My heart screams for these men. Add to that the hip and knee replacements that are sure to come up 10, 15, 20 years after we stop playing. And through the whole PR battle that’s currently being waged, in what some are calling a battle of greed between “millionaires and billionaires,” the players have asked for nothing. Ultimately, we just want to be taken care of after we leave this game.

My message to the NFL: You say you care about us… Now please, prove it. For the sake of guys like Andre Waters, O.J. Brigance, Orlando Thomas, Earl Campbell and Mike Webster… prove it.

I can’t say that I don’t believe Scott Fujita when he says that stuff, but depending on the results of this investigation with the NFL and the Saints, it will make or break Scott Fujita in terms of his legacy. He’ll get the benefit of the doubt for now. Remember his wife also weighed in with an emotional piece of writing of her own that tugged at heart strings as players jockeyed for position in the P.R. war with owners.

But the day will come when they decide to walk away from the sport they played for the last twenty years of their lives. The sport which taught them to play through pain, to never complain, to never stop, to yell, to scream, to hit, to fight, to destroy the man in front of them, to work until they puke, to lay their body on the line every Sunday and just hope that they walk off that field and aren’t carried. That day will come when they leave this game—the game that used them and abused them, yet the game they loved so passionately.

Each man will walk away thinking that if his knees are to give out, hopefully it happens in the next five years before his health coverage expires. And if he has to cover himself with money from his own pocket, he will hope it doesn’t break him. Insurance companies aren’t looking to cover the ten-year veteran pro football player with the pounding migraines and ALS or severe depression that could be lurking just around the corner. His knees and back are sure to give out faster than the average person, and he may lose his mind due to all the concussions.

And here they are, simply asking the men who profit from their work, to please look after their health, as they should have done throughout their career. They ask this so that someday, the young boy who chooses this path knows he will be protected the way he deserves.

Of course, I’ve already weighed in on the bounty thing and how I can’t stand false outrage. Still, as we start to see this thing come in to focus, it is important to know how importantly health issues weighed on the lockout from the players’ point of view.

 

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  • MrCleaveland

    Apples and oranges.

    Bonuses for big plays are a lot different from bounties for injured players.

  • http://twitter.com/oribiasi oribiasi

    Since bonuses for individual plays/performance and bonuses for injuring a player are both covered under the “no bonuses allowed” rule in the NFL player’s union contract, I don’t know how accurate what you’re saying is.  They are both illegal. 

  • porkchpxprss

    In 20 years when we are all watching soccer because no insurer will cover football related brain injuries, we are al going to feel real silly about how crazy this game drove us.

  • MrCleaveland

    I did not know that. But they’re still not the same. So let’s make it red apples and green apples.

  • Thompsons6

    The hypocricy continues. Even if you believe the fine line that Fujita has drawn, I cannot believe that as a leading member of the N.O defense, he was ignorant of the “Bounty Pool”. 

  • humboldt

    The game and equipment will adapt to the science. Fans will have to endure many more rule changes (i.e. moving kickoffs up, banning wedges, etc), but it will be like the mass hysteria to Facebook layout changes that quickly dissipates into acceptance.

  • Garry_Owen

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I don’t get the outrage over the “bounties.”

    Give them helmet stickers. 

  • Jack

    Garry, it’s outrageous to the rational fan because these players refuse to cave to 18 games under the banner of promoting player safety–and then they go out cry foul when the NFL tries to curb violent play AND participate in “bounty” schemes that reward players for purposefully violent/injurious play. 

    Scott Fujita is simply calling the kettle black by attacking the NFL as hypocrites. Why are they hypocrites? Because they promote safety now and also want 18 games? Because they profit from violence? Well, now we have proof that the players directly profit from excessive violence.

    What would they have the NFL do? Not promote player safety now that they’ve learned–or promote player safety but drop all business growth initiatives? 

    It’s not as if the league officials were the producers of gladiator games in previous decades. The players could quit. If you were a player before the connection between head trauma and football was made and you felt so strongly that you were in jeopardy, why didn’t you stop? You weren’t a slave. And what should they have done in the 70s? 80s? 90s? Make the game safer? 

    And now they are trying to and the only ones yelling and insulting the league in opposition of stricter penalties are the players themselves (and idiot fans who yearn for ‘the good old days’ forgetting, of course, that linebackers didn’t run 4.4s then and that helmets weren’t SO efficient at keeping heads safe that they encouraged players to use them as weapons to hurt opposing players (as opposed to be so crappy that players rarely [if ever] lead with the helmet so as to avoid injury to their own persons).

    The arguments of the players are just completely baseless now…they know that they’ve lost a TON of leverage, and Fujita, a prime spokesman for their cause, knows it…but he isn’t a businessman or politician; he lacks the deftness to handle this situation, and he’s making a fool out of himself. 

    Scott Fujita = joke > I will boo him furiously at every opportunity 

  • mgbode

    we still won’t watch soccer.  we’ll invent a new game.   or just watch flag football.

  • Garry_Owen

    Yeah, not what I was talking about. I mean outrage over “bounties” in general. This seems to me to be scandal-making for scandal’s sake. FWIW, I agree with you on what you’ve said below (except for the anger). Fujita’s statement was ill-timed, at best, and certainly looks to be exactly what you say.

  • porkchpxprss

    I know that was crazy talk.  I’m voting for BASEketball

  • porkchpxprss

    I would say that based on where the science is going it would take so many changes that the game will lose its appeal.  The big hits are one thing, but the every down head to head collisions of O and D linemen are being proven to cause just as much damage as a James Harrsion assassin blow.  I just can’t believe people will follow football when it ends up being reduced to touch.  My guess is that Cleveland will win the last and completely most irrevelvant Super Bowl in 2028. 
    That same year our BASEketball team will suffer a crushing defeat that will be  a combination of the Drive, Shot, and Jose Mesa. 

  • Max

    Steeeeeeve Perry!

  • mgbode

    ok, but only if beer pong fizzles on the big stage

  • mgbode

    honestly, there are a few things the NFL should do better outside this whole bounty mess.
    1. the NFL should only allow the best safety rated helmets on the field. there is some discrepancy to what those are, so I do believe the best 3-4 helmets (no matter the manufacturer) should be allowed for the players to choose from. Riddell can still pay to advertise as the “official NFL helmet” but the NFL would have to discount that pricetag.

    2. the NFL should force teams to “fit” helmets for players. this would include a few things that the players would throw an absolute tantrum over:

    A. Hair length restrictions – how the heck is a helmet supposed to fit soundly on your head when you have a Troy-P mane under it? it causes an artificial buffer between your head and the helmet and renders alot of the advantages of the helmet moot.

    B. officials from Riddell or a health organization to measure and find the best fit helmets for each player during training camp (or OTAs).

    3. force all NFL players to have “dentist-grade” mouthguards.

    4. there are penalties in the rulebook for flags when chinstraps are not buckled, mouthguards are not in during play. yet, you see every Sunday players that do not have mouthguards in and do not have their friggin’ chinstraps buckled. throw the flags when you see this and the situation will get corrected very quickly (5yds a pop).

  • humboldt

    I think this makes a lot of sense and, in the short-term could cut injuries at the margins.

    Given the physical challenges of developing more protective headgear (after all, the brain moves inside the skull, which fundamentally limits the utility of a helmet) I think it’s likely that the sport may eventually go back to its roots and prohibit the hard-shell helmet and facemask. 

    Of course, it’s also interesting to consider whether bike-helmet style headgear could be used. Its mechanism is to give on impact, which reduces the acceleration of the brain into the skull. 

    The head needs to be taken out of the game as much as possible, and there are ways to do this without changing the essence of modern football. 

  • Garry_Owen

    I know (or at least seem to remember) that you’re in the business of studying and working to prevent head injuries.  With that in mind, I’ve thought something for a few years that I’d like to run by you – and this is partially in response to mgbode’s criteria above:

    I’ve come to believe that those players with long hair, whose helmets do not fit securely, actually run a LOWER risk of suffering a concussion than those whose helmets fit snuggly.  If the helmet is absorbing so much of the shock that it actually flies off of the player’s head, does this not actually reduce the impact to the head, and by association, the brain?  (Assuming, of course, that nobody flies in after the fact and drills the defenseless player.)   

    I know this is counter-intuitive, but based on my own experience with concussions and too-tight football helmets, it’s a thought that has been brewing for a while.  Is there any merit to this idea, or is it completely foolish? 

  • Garry_Owen

    I’ve also heard that the incidences of head injuries in rugby are exponentially fewer than those in football.  I agree that the modern football helmet has actually done more to increase the risk of head injury than it has to prevent it.  I think they were on the right track with leather. 

  • Garry_Owen

    I just (partially) disagreed with you again (see below). 

  • mgbode

    the only thing below your comment is now this comment :)

  • Garry_Owen

    Turn your computer screen upside down.  Duh.  Am I the only one that does that?? 

  • mgbode

    Rugby is a different sport where you don’t have as many “defenseless player” situations.  The constant motion and the closeness of defense to offense limits such impactful situations.

  • mgbode

    I’ve read studies where they have shown that the hair is detrimental as it causes the helmet to be the same as if it was loose-fitting on someone without a mane.  it will adjust and move around and the impacts will not follow the engineered cushioning impact patterns.

    with the head though, nothing is ever definitive in these studies.

  • Garry_Owen

    True, but when rugby players do make hard tackles and physical contact, they also know how to position their heads properly. 

  • mgbode

    I could use more bloodflow in my head, perhaps I’ll do a handstand for awhile.

  • mgbode

    that is very true.   and sad that NFL players do not.

  • Ritz

    What bothers me is that players say they care about player safety yet they lead with the helmet and pay each other for injuring other players – that is hypocrisy.

  • Harv 21

    Fujita’s and his wife’s criticisms seem fair. Understandable that the big focus right now is on head injuries, but the orthopedic stuff like knees, hips, back is really widespread among former players. Saw something indicating that lifespans of players are shorter generally. Yes, playing a violent game is a choice, but with the amount of money being made it seems almost mean-spirited for the league which sells this violence not to cover the future surgeries and care needed by its gladiators. Five years of health coverage is obscene, given that careers end when plyers are only in their 20s and 30s, and given how long it takes for a lot of problems to start appearing. 

  • Gstiles

    Interesting, you’ve got a player that has spoken out about player safety who was on a team that hired a coach that installed a pay for performance program.  He states that he did pay for big plays but never to injure another player.  After one season with this coach and program he leaves a Super Bowl team to join the Cleveland Browns….Maybe we should not rush to judgement!