Scott Fujita is known for many things -- being a "big white guy with the Japanese last name." as he says; his dedication to charities and community service; and, more recently, his unapologetic views on gay rights.
Fujita was adopted as a child by his Japanese father and white mother, and he grew up in Southern California. Even though he is not ethnically Japanese, Fujita says he is Japanese in his heart. After a standout student-athlete career in high school, Fujita was recruited by the Ivies but decided to play for the University of California, Berkeley, as a walk-on player.
After going pro, Fujita played for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys before settling down with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the season the team returned to the Big Easy following Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Fujita said, he's found his second home. His team named him Man of the Year in 2009 for his charitable efforts for breast cancer awareness, adoption, and two local organizations, Adoption Services of Catholic Charities of New Orleans and the children's charity Angel's Place.
Fujita made waves in October when he backed Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo's support for gay marriage. Now, with the spotlight on him for this Sunday's Super Bowl, the 30-year-old linebacker isn't backing down. Earlier this week, Fujita talked to The Advocate about getting more pro athletes to open up about gay rights, and the possibility of alienating people by being so outspoken.
The Advocate: The city of New Orleans must obviously be thrilled by the Saints making it to the Super Bowl -- what fan reactions have resonated most with you? Scott Fujita: To say the city is thrilled would be an understatement. No one deserves this more than the people of New Orleans, especially considering everything they've been through. All week long people have been coming up to congratulate me -- and my family lives downtown, so we run into a lot of people -- and I feel the need to congratulate them. This is good for all of us. I said after the game that Brett Favre is a great story, but the city of New Orleans and the Saints are an even better story.
So far, it's been you and Brendan Ayanbadejo who have been vocal proponents of gay marriage. Do you think there will be a third player anytime soon to express the same sentiments? I thought what Brendan wrote was incredibly insightful, thought-provoking, and completely on point. And many people would call it courageous. But if Brendan's like me, I don't know if he'd consider what we've done all that courageous. We have strong feelings about equal rights, and to me, expressing those feelings isn't courageous, it's the right thing to do.
I think there will be a third player who expresses support for gay marriage ... and a fourth player, and a fifth, and so on. All it will take is someone who asks more guys their opinion. By and large, the business of football is still pretty 1950s, where the status quo and conformity to the principles of "just shut up and play football" are intact. But the athletes themselves are more than that. We're more than just football players, and many of us are much more open and tolerant than we get credit for. The reality, however, is that the locker room just isn't the place where these issues are discussed, and your everyday beat writer for the local sports page doesn't get paid to ask those questions.
Do you worry about alienating fans for being so supportive of gay marriage? I've found that every time I open my mouth about an issue that's unrelated to football, I alienate some people. But that's a risk I'm willing to take. Because for every piece of hate mail I've received for speaking out in support of gay marriage or for wanting to bring the troops home or for discussing the injustices of Japanese internment, there's a dozen people who either appreciate what I'm doing or who think about the issue in a different way.
I have never claimed to have all the answers ... still haven't met someone who does. But I have some strong opinions about things, especially when it comes to issues of prejudice and inequality. I also recognize that the platform I've been given as a professional athlete will be taken from under me once I leave this game, at which point no one will care to ask my opinion. So in the meantime, why not stand for something?
The NFL draft is coming up, and Tim Tebow didn't fare
too well at the Senior Bowl, and he is appearing in a Super Bowl ad
for Focus on the Family. Do you find that his appearance might hurt his
NFL prospects? I don't know a whole lot about the details of the
campaign Tim Tebow is involved with. But the concept, the idea of
focusing on the family, seems like something most of us would agree on.
Who doesn't think it's a good idea to focus on the family? I just think
he and I probably have different concepts of what's required to create
a positive family structure.
Potentially divisive issues
generally don't appear in Super Bowl ads, so I think that's what is
really raising eyebrows. But this is big business, and these ads go to
the highest bidder.
I don't know if I'd say Tebow is hurting his
draft status. What he's done in college speaks for itself. He's a
proven winner, a great competitor, and has a reputation for being a
pretty good leader. And truthfully, I respect him for standing up for
what he believes in. I'm sure he and I would do just fine as
teammates ... there's probably just not a whole lot we would agree upon
otherwise, and that's fine.
Going into this game, what do you believe gives the Saints the upper hand? The Saints are on a mission. Words really can't express how proud we are to represent these people on the biggest stage there is. My wife, Jaclyn, sent me a text message the other day of a quote she read somewhere: "The people of New Orleans love the Saints not because they provide a distraction from their fall, but because they are a reflection of their rise." There is no place where the connection between a city and a team runs as deep as it does here in New Orleans.