Fujita Among Suspended in Bounty Program

Fujita was suspended three games for pledging money to the bounty program, the NFL said in a decision announced on Wednesday

The Browns will lose Scott Fujita for three games this season.

Fujita, though, may lose a lot more. Because when the NFL announced his three-game suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty program, it included some very damaging information about the linebacker who signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2010.

Fujita was suspended three games for pledging money to the bounty program, the NFL said in a decision announced on Wednesday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for a year, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay) for eight games and defensive end Will Smith four games.

The league said all four were suspended for their "leadership roles" in the program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely for establishing a program that provided financial rewards for hits that injured other players.

Vilma's suspension takes effect immediately, the others when the season begins.

The NFL release contains much disturbing information -- information that the Players Union disputed.

It states that Vilma pledged $10,000 to anyone who knocked out Kurt Warner or Brett Favre in the playoffs following the 2009 season -- the season the Saints won the Super Bowl. The release adds that Smith pledged money for the hits and managed the program as a defensive captain, and Hargrove "actively obstructed" the NFL investigation into the program.

Fujita, the league said, "pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts,' plays during which an opposing player was injured."

There was no immediate comment from Fujita or the other three players who were suspended. The Browns said Fujita would not be available, and released a statement from coach Pat Shurmur that said: "We respect the Commissioner's decision. Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp."

The NFLPA, though, released a statement on the "alleged pay-to-injure program" suspensions, and promised a fight.

"After seeing the NFL's decision letters," NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said in the statement, "the NFLPA has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair.

"We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf."

The league said in its release that it provided the NFLPA its evidence on March 2 and March 21.

The players can appeal, though appeals are heard by the same man who imposed the suspensions: Commissioner Roger Goodell.

ESPN quoted an anonymous source saying all would appeal, adding: "Get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."

A legal battle, though, will be difficult because the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement covers issues related to player discipline.

The NFL release states other Saints players participated in the program, but the suspended four participated in the program at a higher level than their teammates.

"I focused," Goodell said in the release, "on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation."

Saint tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted that the suspensions were "beyond ridiculous!"

He wrote: "I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation. Its (sad when u have to hear about it on tv. Ridiculous!"

The league said its decision was based on documentation, interviews with several sources and independent forensic analysts. The league said it invited the players to be interviewed, with an attorney present. None took part in the interview, though Fujita did go to New York with the NFLPA Executive Committee.

If the charges are true -- and it's tough to see the league or Goodell releasing the information if it is not true -- the charges against Fujita are eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

He has never been known as a dirty player, and his only comment on the bounty program came through Peter King of Sports Illustrated. In that statement Fujita steadfastly denied contributing money to injure another player. He said his contributions were for performance -- forced fumbles, fumbles recovered, a big special teams play.

As a member of the Executive Committee, Fujita had lobbied for changes in the CBA that would benefit player safety. Many of those changes were enacted in the new CBA, including reduced offseason demands and reduced numbers of full-pad practices during the season.

Now he's charged with pledging money to a bounty program designed to injure opposing players.

There could hardly be a starker contrast.

The suspension will cost Fujita almost $645,000.

Time will tell if the cost to his reputation and name may be longer-lasting, and more severe.


Pat McManamon appears courtesy of FoxSportsOhio


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