Fujita hoping for “Bountygate” reprieve

Fujita hoping for ‘Bountygate’ reprieve

Updated 11:47 p.m., Thursday, September 6, 2012

Scott Fujita admits he pledged money for interceptions, sacks and turnovers, but says he’d never be involved in offering incentives for opponents’ injuries. Photo: Bill Haber, AP / SF

Don’t count out Browns linebacker Scott Fujita yet. Whether he is the good guy that everyone thought he was at Cal and the first 10 years of his NFL career or the bad guy that Commissioner Roger Goodell said risked the integrity of the game, he is not going to stop until the whistle blows.

The opening kickoff whistle Sunday.

Fujita is still optimistic that he will play when the Browns take the field against the Eagles, despite the fact he has been suspended three games by Goodell for his alleged role in the New Orleans’ bounty scandal.

The NFL Players Association this week asked a federal judge for a temporary restraining order that would allow the players suspended in connection with the bounty investigation to rejoin their teams in time to play their openers.

The union argues that Fujita, Saints defensive end Will Smith and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove will suffer irreparable harm if they are forced to miss games while their case against the league proceeds. (Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, suspended for the whole season, had already filed a similar motion).

Forget, for a second, the damage to his reputation. Fujita argued in the latest filing that the suspension could cost him and the others their jobs, “or even worse,” their places on their teams’ rosters.

And for what? To this point Fujita hasn’t seen any credible evidence that he contributed money to a pay-for-injury program when he was on the Saints in 2009.

He admits to pledging money for interceptions, sacks and turnovers – and, even then, only on an individual basis and never as part of a pool – but said he would never be involved in what the league said he did. However, the NFL said he did it, and they’ve said it more loudly and powerfully than he can say he didn’t.

“It’s extremely challenging to prove a negative,” Fujita said. “How do you prove you didn’t do something?”

So, as of right now, he stands to lose $645,000 and his reputation because of what he calls a smear campaign by the league.

U.S. District Judge HelenGinger Berrigan, who is hearing the case, has said she found the league’s handling of the bounty matter to be unfair to the players and their punishments excessive. But she doesn’t want to rule until the players had exhausted their remedies under the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

That throws the ball back to a three-member panel that last week heard arguments in the NFLPA’s appeal of a system arbitrator Stephen Burbank‘s ruling that Goodell had the authority both to punish the players and hear their appeal in the bounty matter.

Fujita waits. While he is not participating in Browns team drills, he is running sprints on the side at practice. Fujita will walk out behind the defense at practice, a few yards behind the safeties, and silently call out formations.

And he waits. He wonders if his role on the NFLPA executive committee, often criticizing Goodell for saying he cares about player safety while pushing for an 18-game season, has come back to bite him.

He waits for someone to show him proof. And Fujita waits, to suit up and play on Sunday.

Vic Tafur is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: vtafur@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @VicTafur

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Fujita-hoping-for-Bountygate-reprieve-3846465.php#ixzz266YPcuFS

Filed in: Press Room • Thursday, September 6th, 2012

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Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more