July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Fujita considers retirement


Brian Dulik

The Gazette

BEREA -– Browns starting strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita has not retired from the NFL, but he appears to be strongly leaning in that direction.

Fujita met with the media Friday for the first time since being shut down for the season, where he disclosed the extent of his major neck and shoulder injuries.

The 33-year-old said he suffered nerve and disk damage -– in addition to being diagnosed with spinal stenosis -– following Cleveland’s Oct. 7 game at the New York Giants.

“I had a number of stingers in that game and those issues didn’t subside over the next few days,” Fujita said while standing in the center of the locker room.

“It’s usually Monday or Tuesday when you start to thaw out and you realize, ‘Holy hell, what the hell just happened?’ In this case, it got stiffer and stiffer, worse and worse, and I’m just glad (the trainers) talked me into getting an MRI. It wound up being nerve damage, disk, the whole deal.”

Fujita experienced similar problems during his sophomore season at University of California, where he was famously plagued by neck stingers while laying in bed. He underwent surgery at that point, but knew it was not a permanent solution.

After playing in four games this season, Fujita’s clock figuratively hit midnight. Stenosis is a narrowing of the spine that can lead to paralysis and abruptly ended the careers of WWE wrestlers Steve Austin and Edge.

“I had surgery 13 years ago, so I’ve had a good run and have been relatively problem-free, yet here we are again,” said Fujita, who signed a three-year contract with the Browns as a free agent in 2010.

“I am thankful that I have coaches, trainers and doctors who are looking out more for the person than the player. That’s important and I appreciate that. I’ve got to deal with it, and hopefully I will feel better soon.”

Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur announced Wednesday that Fujita would be placed on season-ending injured reserve, but that move will not officially be made until this afternoon.

In the interim, the outspoken NFL Players Association executive has been flooded with well wishes from Browns players, along with his former teammates in Kansas City, Dallas and New Orleans.

“It’s for the best right now and I’m at peace with it, but I am very sad,” Fujita said, sounding very much like a veteran at the end of his playing days.

“I’ve got to be honest, I became a little emotional Wednesday morning at our team meeting because that’s when it really hit me. D’Qwell (Jackson) and Phil (Dawson) introduced me as the honorary team captain, and Phil said some very nice things. Recognizing that this was the end of the season for me, that was emotional.”

Fujita and his wife Jaclyn are the parents of three young daughters, who he said will figure strongly into his decision whether to retire.

What won’t be a factor, however, is the one-game NFL suspension he is still facing because of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently reduced Fujita’s ban from three games after admitting that his only violation was not forcing Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to discontinue the payments for hurting opposing players.

“Honestly, that couldn’t be further from my mind right now,” said Fujita, who has 917 tackles, 23 1/2 sacks and seven interceptions in 143 professional games.

“I feel like I fought the fight the best I can and felt like I came out on the good side of it. They admitted publicly that I had nothing to do with any of (the payouts), so I feel good about that. That’s why, at this point, I don’t give it that much thought.”

While Fujita stressed that he was not in Berea to announce his retirement, he repeatedly mentioned the “big picture” when asked about his future.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder singled out Cleveland players Jackson, Dawson, Benjamin Watson, Chris Gocong and Sheldon Brown as some of the most valuable people in his life, saying he loves them.

Fujita echoed those sentiments about Browns assistant coaches Bill Davis, Dick Jauron and Chuck Bullough, again appearing to close the door on one chapter of his life.

“I’m not ready to answer that (retirement) question yet because it’s still too early,” he said. “I’m still digesting the news of being put on IR and the injury and everything else, so it’s a little too early to rush into a major decision like that.

“I need time, I need to breathe a little bit, and I need to get back with my family. I need to be very careful and very smart about this, which I will be.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.