‘I Chickened Out’

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‘I Chickened Out’

Ex-linebacker Scott Fujita nearly walked away because of concussion concerns but couldn’t ‘get off the hamster wheel.’ His perspective on Chris Borland’s bold decision, plus answering questions about Deflategate, Marcus Mariota and more

By: Peter King; March 18, 2015
There is no moral of the Chris Borland story yet. We don’t know, nor should we draw any hasty conclusions, about the meaning of a rising-star 24-year-old player’s decision to quit football after his first year in the NFL. It is certainly not meaningless when a promising linebacker leaves the game due to fear over his long-term health. But will others follow? Will the league redouble its health-and-safety efforts? And, in the end, isn’t there simply a danger to this game that those who play it and those who watch it are going to have to accept?
In my three decades covering football, I’ve met a lot of smart players. I went looking for one who would have much in common with Borland to see what he thought of the decision. So I spoke with three smart linebackers who I knew wouldn’t sugarcoat their feelings about what Borland had done. Two chose not to talk about it—one because his career is teetering on the edge of being over, and another because he said his feelings about it were too raw, and because he didn’t know enough about why Borland had quit.But recently retired Scott Fujita—a linebacker like Borland, a mid-round draft pick like Borland, a captain-of-the-defense-type like Borland, and extremely smart like Borland—did speak, and eloquently.

Fujita, now living in California, said he greatly admired what Borland did. He said he almost quit at age 30, after his eighth season in the league, after he played for the Super Bowl-winning Saints in 2009, because he’d sustained a concussion in the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and thought he should walk away.

“But I chickened out,” Fujita said. “A week or so before free agency began [in 2010], everything cleared up, I felt good, and I realized I still wanted to play.”

And there was the matter of a three-year, $14-million contract with Cleveland ($8 million guaranteed) to consider. Fujita played. Well, sort of. He finished each of his three seasons in Cleveland injured, and never had a year there befitting his talent. As Fujita said: “I limped to the finish line of my career.”

His story: “I was paid well in Cleveland, and my family and I will benefit from it the rest of our lives. That’s what is tough late in your career. After I got the concussion in the Super Bowl, in the weeks after, my wife would say to me, ‘You just don’t seem like yourself.’ But you think you’ve got one last chance for a bite at the apple, and you feel good enough, and you figure you should take it.

“The biggest threat to football, long-term, will be a diminishing talent pool,” Fujita says. “But we don’t know if there will be one yet, so everyone should cool it with the hyperbole.”

“That’s why, with Borland, my first reaction is he was brave and smart and courageous to make a decision like this. And mature, for a 24-year-old. How many guys that age would do their homework on their own and research head trauma and be able to come up with such a major life decision with such an attractive football future ahead of them?

“I can tell you this: No matter how intelligently you think about your future, and a decision like that, it’s tough to get off the hamster wheel and stop playing.”

One of the reasons I reached out to Fujita was to try to put things in perspective. I always felt, even with the toughest issues, he could look at things from all sides. Which is why I wanted to know what he thought about the long-term effect of Borland’s decision—if he could see one yet.

He can’t. It’s too early. Not enough has happened.

“I don’t see this as an indictment of football necessarily,” Fujita said. “This is just one more piece in a broader conversation about a very complicated puzzle. I’ve always said the biggest threat to football, long-term, will be a diminishing talent pool. But we don’t know if there will be one yet, or when that will happen. So everyone should cool it with the hyperbole.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Full article posted at: http://mmqb.si.com/2015/03/18/chris-borland-scott-fujita-nfl/

Filed in: Press Room • Thursday, March 19th, 2015
 

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About

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