Linebacker says attitudes in the NFL toward gays are improving
By Cyd Zeigler
When Scott Fujita publicly mentioned his support for gay marriage last year, it left some people smiling and some scratching their heads. Rarely do active professional athletes take positions on political issues, and almost never do they do so in favor of gay rights.
Fujita said he’s been stirring the pot on the issue for a while. In the New Orleans Saints locker room, he often started conversations about political issues including gay marriage.
“It’s easy to have an argument with somebody when you know you’re right,” Fujita said. “That’s the best thing we have going for us right now, is that we’re on the right side. Eventually, just like with civil rights, people will fall in line, and then they’ll sit back and think, ‘what in hell were we thinking?’”
He said the last couple years gay issues from adoption to marriage have come up more and more, to the point where last season they discussed the issues “quite a bit.” His coaches have tried to stop politics-based discussions in the locker room, but Fujita doesn’t believe the conversations have alienated him or anyone else in the locker room; Rather, he says they brought the Saints players closer together last season.
“Guys are a lot more accepting and tolerant than they get credit for,” Fujita said. “It’s not across the board, but more than likely there are more players who respect that I’m standing up for what I believe in, rather than those guys who might say I must be a fag. I haven’t gotten any of that.”
He said he’s not the only one in those conversations who is for gay marriage; And the attitudes of many of the teammates he talks with are shifting in his direction.
“More and more guys are starting to come around,” Fujita said. “I try to pose the argument in a way that isn’t confrontational. I don’t want to bring hate into it. I center it on love and understanding and common sense. And I think people hear my message and the way I bring my story into it, I think more often than not people understand the commons sense of it. They just have to wrap their head around the idea that love is love.”
Fujita has had only one teammate he ever thought was gay: A walk-on his sophomore year at Berkeley. And despite the changing attitudes, Fujita thinks the NFL would still be a very tough place to come out. But he did say that a player who contributes in a strong way to his team on the field would have an easier time. And he said someone like himself, who is respected and has conviction behind his beliefs, could also make it through.
He also doesn’t agree with Sterling Sharpe, who years ago said a teammate coming out would be injured so badly by his teammates at the next practice that he wouldn’t make it into a game. At least, he doesn’t believe that would have happened on the three teams he has played with so far: Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints.
“No one’s going to come out and want to hurt somebody,” Fujita said. “It’s an issue of alienation, where the player would feel like he is on his own, which obviously wouldn’t be fair.”
Still, Fujita said he thinks after some initial pushback that the player could be fine, as long as he had support from management, the coaching staff, and the leaders in the locker room.
“People fall in line,” Fujita said. “It takes one person to do something, like Jackie Robinson did, for everyone to fall in line. I hope to God that no one waits until everyone is ready.”
As for Fujita’s beliefs, they stem from being brought up in a multiracial household (his adoptive parents are Japanese). He has also had gay friends for years. The professor who oversaw his honors thesis at UC-Berkeley is gay. And he said there were various gay couples who lived in the building where he and his wife resided in New Orleans. For him and his wife, sexual orientation simply isn’t part of the equation when making friends.
“If they’re good people, then we want them in our life,” Fujita said.
For Cleveland Browns fans, Fujita has high hopes for the team. He said he went into his first interview with head coach Eric Mangini with strong doubts, and he told Mangini that he had heard bad things about the coach. Mangini talked candidly about it, and by the end of their first meeting he had won Fujita over. He said the tenor of the Browns has changed as Mangini and General Manager Mike Holmgren have focused on bringing in “great guys” like Jake Delhomme and Ben Watson.
And, clearly, Scott Fujita.