Commentary

Fujita busy off the field, too

Linebacker arrives as Browns clean up from years of decline

Updated: March 26, 2010, 2:52 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Aaaaah, spring is in the air.

Baseball is in preseason, the NHL and NBA are heading into postseason, and the NFL is in the middle of its annual game of musical chairs before the draft, with 30-year-old running backs and turnover-prone quarterbacks being the hottest commodities.

[+] EnlargeScott Fujita
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesScott Fujita made 58 tackles during the regular season for the Saints last season.

This explains how Jake Delhomme ended up in Cleveland.

Poor, poor Cleveland.

A franchise that continues to distance itself from its rich football heritage with underachievers on the field, questionable decision-making off the field and the lingering, repulsive smell of former owner Art Modell. But with spring comes the cleaning, and if there's any franchise that has been busy scrubbing away the stench of last season, it has been the Cleveland Browns.

The hiring of Mike Holmgren as president may not have led to the firing of embattled coach Eric Mangini, but there are significant roster changes. Delhomme's signing will at least bring more experience under center, but it's the first guy Holmgren inked, former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, who gives Browns fandom something it hasn't had in a while: fresh air.

"I'm really disappointed to be leaving New Orleans because the city has been so good to me and my family and the fans are just amazing ... but I'm also excited to be part of the new things happening in Cleveland," he said. "... and as far as my mouth, I doubt I'll be able to keep it shut."

And as far as I'm concerned, he shouldn't.

For all the attention paid to athletes who do wrong, and the Browns have had their share, I can't get enough of this 30-year-old do-gooder from crunchy-granola California. He's not perfect, none of us are, but he is focused on using whatever notoriety he has to address the problems he sees in the world outside of football.

Fujita, the first free agent to sign with the Saints after Hurricane Katrina, made somewhat of a splash during media week at the Super Bowl when he talked about his support of marriage equality and this summer hopes to shoot a PSA for GLAAD (an organization I'm involved with) to address homophobia in sports.

In a couple of weeks, Fujita is announcing details of his new partnership with the America's WETLAND Foundation and Gulf Restoration Network. He donated portions of his Super Bowl check to relief in Haiti and is working with former Saints teammate Jonathan Vilma to continue to raise funds for the devastated country.

[+] EnlargePink Cleats
Derick Hingle/Icon SMISaints teammate Reggie Bush wore pink cleats during the NFL's breast cancer awareness week.

Before players were wearing pink cleats, Fujita, whose mother survived two bouts with breast cancer, was involved in the fight against the disease. He lends support to Angel's Place, a New Orleans-based organization that provides a supportive environment for terminally ill children and their families. Fujita, who was adopted, also uses his fame to talk about the importance of adoption.

When I scan all the philanthropic projects with which Fujita is involved, I'm reminded of a line from "Work for Peace" by poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron: "Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something." I don't know about you, but that always nudges me to be better person.

That is not to suggest football is not important, or that Fujita's performance as a player takes a backseat. For all of his charity work, his job is to play football, just like the other men on the field. But while winning provides a great source of pride, I've always been drawn more to the athletes who do more than hoist championships or line their own pockets. Nothing's wrong with making money and there's nothing wrong with winning. But there's nothing wrong with making a difference, either, and as Warrick Dunn, Kurt Warner and Charles Woodson have demonstrated, the three are not mutually exclusive.

By all accounts, Fujita was a great locker-room guy in New Orleans and was a vocal leader on defense. He'll also help bring a winning mentality to a franchise that has mustered only three winning seasons in the past 20 years. But more importantly, he'll bring his heart and will pour himself into the city of Cleveland. After years of the me-first shenanigans of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, I'm thinking this is indeed a breath of fresh, clean air.

"I just like standing up for the little guy and trying to make the world better," he said. "I'm of the general mindset that we only get one crack at life. I could be wrong ... but I just don't know what's next. So if we only get one shot, shouldn't everybody get an equal opportunity to make the absolute most out of their life? Maybe I'm crazy for thinking that way, but it just seems right to me."

I think he is crazy. And that's all right with me.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine