Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Smearing the Wrong Person

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita says he’s being punished over semantics. He may be, but when that punished is finalized he’ll have only himself to blame.

On the day his appeal of a four game suspension for allegedly participating in the New Orleans’ Saints bounty program, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and his cohorts traded that appeal process for the court of public opinion.

And in the court of public opinion they are expending great effort to display themselves as victims of a smear campaign while engaging in a little smear campaign of their own.

Let’s get a few things straight at the outset. Fujita isn’t a victim, he’s a perpetrator. Whether he’s complicit in fostering a bounty system that paid off for vicious hits on competitors may be a matter of semantics, mostly his. Fujita readily admitted early on that he did contribute money to an off-the-books bonus pool that paid teammates for good clean hard hits and other forms of in-game excellence.

If that all begs the question as to why otherwise well compensated athletes needed a special bonus pool that maybe gave them a few extra hundred dollars each week for doing what they already were paid handsomely to do, then you’re starting to understand what Fujita ignores—his story cum excuse walks an awfully fine line that most people can’t abide because of sheer illogic of it all.

What exactly is the difference between a good, clean hard hit and a good, clean hard hit that knocks a competitor out of the game? Not much to the recipient certainly. Irrespective, it is that difficult question that Fujita would have to actually answer in order to defend himself. Instead he turned tail and ran, again.

If you’re counting this makes it twice that Fujita has refused to actually participate in the process that could clear his name all while claiming that his good name is being smeared. He refused to answer any questions during the initial investigation, choosing a strategy of omerta when honesty would have been better. Now that he got a suspension he refused to participate in his own appeal.

Fujita played the victim card righteously plight during a noisy withdrawal from the appeal process by complaining about its abject unfairness, a red herring if ever there was one. This isn’t a criminal court. It’s an appeal process under a collective bargaining agreement that Fujita and these same cohorts ratified just a year ago.

We’ll all recall with some wincing the NFL labor wars of last season. There were accusations about this and that but mostly it was about how to divide up a shit load of money. There were plenty of other issues on the table, including player safety. Fujita was one of the most vocal about it, in fact.

Those labor wars, which involved court actions and expired contracts, were settled with a peace accord that included a brand new, long term collective bargaining agreement. Presumably the union and its members, members like Fujita for example, read it before they approved it.

Contained there in its own separate chapter is the ambiguously titled “Commissioner Discipline.” In very clear words it gives the NFL Commissioner, in this case Roger Goodell, the absolute authority to fine or suspend a player “for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

In the same way, it gives the Commissioner the power to act as the hearing officer for any such discipline imposed for allegedly engaging in such conduct and to issue a final and binding decision after any such hearing. It’s all there in black and white. Nothing’s hidden.

In that light, Fujita’s complaint is merely that an agreement he signed last year doesn’t work for him this year. It’s the player mentality. When a player feels he’s outperformed his contract, he doesn’t much care that it binds him for another season or two. He’ll bitch and moan and sit out and suck his thumb or claim he’s got the miseries all in a way to get the other party to that contract to do something differently then what was already agreed to.

That’s Fujita’s problem here. Conditioned like most players to ignore contracts, he gets all indignant when the other side enforces it, which is exactly what the NFL is doing here. Recall that before Goodell held the grievance hearings on Monday, these same players tried an end around the process by claiming rather insincerely that because this conduct supposedly occurred before the new collective bargaining agreement was in effect, they couldn’t be disciplined by Goodell under it.

That argument was quickly shot down by two different arbitrators and so faced with the actual disciplinary hearing they were entitled to under the contract they fought for and signed and given the chance to clear their name, the players walked, like cowards and bullies they are.

Fujita can claim that Goodell and the NFL are running a kangaroo court but until he participates fully he loses the right to complain. He looks ridiculous and if he’s at all a victim here it’s either of bad public relations or legal advice and he should fire his advisors.

Let’s face it. Fujita isn’t really worried about some convenient sense of fairness that fits a narrative that he thinks will garner him sympathy. He’s worried about a far more inconvenient truth. Even if the pool he helped perpetuate wasn’t to act as bounty payments, it was still impermissible under the collective bargaining agreement for which he can and should be punished.

Fujita may think that the evidence against him for participating in a bounty pool is flimsy but much of it comes from his own mouth. In the legal business we call that direct evidence. Fujita isn’t participating in the process because it’s rigged. He isn’t participating in it because he’s guilty and recognizes the futility of going further.

The problem though is Fujita isn’t nearly that honest. He courts the reputation of a stand up guy always doing the right thing but he’s an abject phony. He’s a phony because he talks about player safety while secretly helping create a bonus pool that at the very least rewarded players for hitting competitors as hard as possible (since they were already paid plenty for hitting hard enough). If there’s one thing we know, players get hurt by hard hits, even clean hard hits.

Fujita’s a phony because he stood shoulder to shoulder with his fellow union advocates and ratified a new collective bargaining agreement but then decries its alleged unfairness when it happens to work against him personally. Finally Fujita is a phony because by not participating in the process and then publicly criticizing the Commissioner he’s doing exactly the thing he claims to detest the most—the smearing of a man’s good name.

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