Scott Fujita: Becoming a Champion With Hard Work and a Little Luck
People told Scott Fujita he was crazy. Why would he be the first free agent to join a troubled New Orleans team after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city?
“For me, it was a chance to be a part of something that was much bigger than football,” he said. “My wife and I took a leap of faith, and the community took us in and adopted us as one of their own immediately."
The team had a terrible 2005 season in the wake of the storm, and Fujita signed on in 2006. "So there was an immediate connection ... as we’re trying to rebuild this organization and at the same time the community is trying to rebuild the city.”
The now-retired linebacker helped build the team into one that won the championship three years later, signaling a comeback for both the team and the city.
Fujita said he always planned to use football as a springboard toward making the world a better place, and that he thought building a winner in post-hurricane New Orleans would mean more than it would elsewhere.
Since retiring in 2012, Fujita has become a full-time philanthropist. Making the world a better place is his full-time gig.
“There are a lot of organizations I work with philanthropically, one being Team Gleason, which JPMorgan Chase has actually been incredibly supportive of,” he said. “It’s a foundation named for one of my former teammates and best friends, Steve Gleason, who’s living with ALS. I sit on the board of the foundation, and Steve is always cooking up these wacky ideas for us to go out and do.”
For instance, Fujita recently carried Gleason to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru to raise awareness for ALS and Team Gleason.
“It probably wasn’t the brightest thing in the world, but it was probably one of the coolest things we’ve ever done,” he said.
Fujita says his success is a mix of hard work and luck, such as when an onside kick in the championship game helped New Orleans win after it hit an opposing player.
"He happens to drop it, and we recover. If that doesn’t happen, we lose the game. We take advantage of the opportunity, and we win.”
Lucky or not, if Fujita hadn’t risen to the challenge when New Orleans needed heroes, he wouldn’t be making the impact that he is today.
"As a leader, it’s recognizing all of these kinds of things,” he said. “Recognizing what made you successful. Recognizing the opportunities that are attractive and knowing which ones to take advantage of and which ones to ignore. And also to be in a position to take advantage of luck when it comes your way. I like to think that can parlay that into everything I do for the rest of my life, but it’s a skill set I think you develop over a period of time. And for me that was heightened during my experience in New Orleans.”
Mason Lerner is a freelance journalist who has written for ESPN The Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, the Associated Press and the Galveston County Daily News.