Fujita, suspended for three games by the league for allegedly contributing “a significant amount” of money to a pay-for-hits pool while he played for the Saints, maintained his innocence on Tuesday in his first public comments since the disturbing scandal broke.
“That is not true,” he said.
The 10-year veteran has appealed the penalty handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell. Fujita, however, said he’s more determined to clear his name and protect his image than making sure he’s in Cleveland’s starting lineup for the season opener on Sept. 9.
“Listen,” he said, his voice rising. “My reputation is a lot more valuable to me than three game checks (about $644,000). My track record speaks for itself.”
Fujita was one of four players reprimanded by the league following its investigation into the Saints‘ bounty program, which was run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-11. New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire season, Green Bay defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was suspended eight games and Saints defensive end Will Smith for four.
Following the Browns’ first practice of organized team activities (OTAs), Fujita, who played in New Orleans from 2006-09, spent more than 10 minutes answering questions about the bounty scandal, which has rocked the league and indelibly stained the Saints.
Fujita said the claims against him have hurt personally and that he’s now pitted in a battle of his word against the league’s.
“That’s the reality of the situation that we’re in, and unfortunately for a lot of us, we’re on public trial and that’s unfortunate,” said Fujita, who serves as an executive committee member for the NFL Players Association. “But I’m just going to stick with my previous statements, and there will come a time when I’ll be ready to share everything, but now is not the time.”
When he was suspended, Fujita released a statement professing he did nothing wrong. He referred to the statement several times during his interview session, which began with him stepping behind a podium surrounded by cameras and microphones and saying, “fire away.”
Fujita kept his composure throughout. He only became emotional when he described learning about the investigation while he was in the hospital with his wife as she was giving birth to the couple’s third daughter. Fujita said news of the league’s probe blindsided him.
“I was never even alerted about it,” he said. “I had a problem with that. That was at a time when I was supposed to be with my family, spending time with my newborn daughter so I was disappointed in that. Since that time, again, the idea of being on a public trial is a difficult situation to be in. It’s our word against theirs and that’s frustrating, but the reality is that I know what actually happened and that’s why I can stand by those statements.”
Fujita paused when he was asked if he had evidence that would clear his name.
“It’s just my word against theirs and it’s a tough situation to be in,” he said. “Can I go to bed at night and look at myself in the mirror and know what actually happened? Yeah. But it’s an uphill battle. Can I go toe to toe with the media and all that kind of stuff? It’s a challenging prospect.”