Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is about as courageous and outspoken an athlete as there is on the contemporary sport’s landscape. His wife, Jaclyn Fujita, is at least as sharp and strong-willed as her husband, but has made the choice to not be as outspoken as Scott, until now. Jaclyn Fujita was pushed to write something about the realities of NFL life, after a dear friend was diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and believed to be linked to repeated concussions). This tragedy invaded their lives in the same awful recent weeks when former NFL player Kevin Turner was diagnosed with ALS and Chicago Bear legend Dave Duerson took his own life by shooting himself in the chest instead of the head so his brain could be studied for the effects of post-concussive syndrome. Jaclyn didn’t originally write the following for publication, just catharsis. But many have asked her to put it out there with the hope that fans could understand why the NFL players have chosen to say that safety and security are non-negotiables.
The Wish of an NFL Wife
by Jaclyn Fujita
I am a pro football player’s wife and my husband has been knocking heads for the last twenty-plus years. We choose this path. The burden—whatever it may be—rests on our shoulders. This was the dream we decided to chase.
Honestly, though, I don’t know that we were fully aware of the ultimate reality of the National Football League. We learned the hard way that he would work his ass into the ground, playing every defensive down and special teams, and would be the lowest paid man on the roster. That he would experience multiple concussions, but remain on the field. That he would suffer full ligament tears and shouldn’t have been walking, but team doctors would tell him it was a “minor sprain” and should still play. That even though you have given your heart and soul to a team, they can easily replace you with a rookie who has never played in the NFL before.
My husband could have lost his life to a staph infection. His NFL doctors and trainers were heating/icing/stemming his knee for a bursa-sac rupture and ignoring all the major signs of infection, while his body was screaming that something else must be wrong. He ended up in an emergency operation weeks after symptoms began. Following five nights in hospital isolation and many weeks beating back the infection, he was ready to play for the city we love and a team we built our life around. He would help them win the coveted Super Bowl Championship. Less than a month later he would be gone, feeling completely expendable and replaceable as if his blood, sweat and tears did not matter.
Now I know many don’t want to hear our complaints: we made our bed and now we have to lie in it. But what about the pro football players of tomorrow who have no idea what they are stepping into? Boys who are playing football because they love it and have found something they are really good at? They see the pride on their family’s faces every time they strap on that helmet, but these young men have no idea of the pain they will endure or the true uncertainty of their career choice. They have no idea how long they will work or when their bodies will say “no” to the abuse. What these men need to know is that as they step on the field and risk major injury—while generating billions of dollars for this industry—the billionaires who write the checks are not looking out for them. They need to know that they are going to be lied to. They need to know that when they suffer an injury they will be told they should buck up and play.