July 28, 2014

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.