[SPORTS] Scott Fujita - An Asian American w/o a Drop of Japanese Blood
- The Saint With Green Eyes, Community Ties
Scott Fujita, the five-year NFL veteran who once played for
Parcells, wants to rekindle the spirits of the Gulf Coast one year
after the hurricanes.
By LYNDA LIN
The name on the football jersey reads "Fujita," but by his own
admission, he does not have one drop of Japanese blood. Instead New
Orleans Saints linebacker number 55 has what he calls dual heritage
a chiseled jaw line and green Irish eyes that belie his other
identity. Yes. Scott Fujita is Japanese American.
He's been telling everyone this simple fact for as long as he can
remember; it's just that people don't tend to believe him.
"I'd get a lot of questions from substitute teachers. They would ask
me to provide ID," said Scott, 27, about his formative years growing
up in Camarillo, Calif. Of course in Ventura County, with its large
Hispanic population, he was also frequently called "Fajita," he
It comes with the territory of being a 6-foot-5 inch, 250-pound
National Football League player who is defined as being "not
Japanese" as often as he is lauded for being a consistent ball
player. Scott, who was adopted as a baby by Ventura County JACLers
Rod and Helen Fujita, has learned to handle the quizzical looks and
the double takes with humor and an unwavering determination towards
achieving every set goal.
Challenge is a motif in Scott's life; it follows him and he
inevitably conquers it. Now he's about to embark on a new football
season and his fifth year in the NFL playing for an underdog team
that was decimated by hurricanes one year ago.
He's again ready for the challenge it's in his blood.
Nurturing a Real Identity
"I'm not delusional. I'm not a person trying to be someone I'm not.
I don't have a single drop of Japanese blood in me," said Scott to
the Pacific Citizen from Jackson, Mississippi where he is stationed
during the preseason.
His identity and sense of self was hewed out of his relationship
with his family, whose lineage is also deeply rooted in strength.
Scott's grandfather, Nagao Fujita, was a member of the 442nd
Regimental Combat Team during World War II who fought for a country
that forced his family into an internment camp. In the desert sands
of Gila River, Rod was born. Nagao, who was the first English-
speaking JA attorney at the time, regaled young Scott and older
brother Jason (who is also adopted) with heroic war stories.
"There's something about the Japanese culture where the first
grandson is spoiled rotten, so my brother Jason got everything he
got war swords, you name it," said Scott. From his grandmother he
heard about the desolation of his father's birthplace.
"I grew up with a lot of interest in the subject [of internment],"
Growing up, Scott visited Obon festivals and introduced Caucasian
friends to Japanese comfort food. Recently he found a sushi
restaurant near his home in New Orleans for a taste of home cooking.
"We don't know how old he was when he realized he wasn't Japanese!"
And while many young Asian Pacific Americans still struggle with
their own identities, Scott wears his on his sleeve.
"I feel privileged to have dual heritage."
Scott plans to impart the same cultural lessons on his future kids.
"My wife [Jaclyn] is blonde too," said Scott, who jokes that they'll
have some more explaining to do when they have little Fujitas.
Fifth Round Pick
At five, Scott decided he wanted to be like Michael Jordan, so he
asked his dad to teach him how to dribble. At that time, the
Fujita's basketball hoop did not have a rim, so with permission
Scott spent hours just practicing to dribble on their neighbor's
driveway. Then in high school Scott decided he wanted to learn how
to throw a football.
"I knew he had talent. I never realized where he could go with it,"
said Rod, 63, a retired high school teacher.
Rod enrolled Scott in Pop Warner football where he played the
running back position.
Desi Sandlin, a former coach of the Road Runner's Pop Warner team,
remembers a scrappy seven-year-old Scott running on the field for
the first time.
"He was all skin and bones!" said Sandlin with a laugh. "He was so
determined. Everything he did was 100 percent. You know when kids
hit for the first time they're kind of shy? When Scott hit we knew
it was something special."
Seeing his talent, Sandlin snuck Scott into the linebacker position.
Now Sandlin jokes "See. I knew where he had to be."
In high school, Scott decided he wanted to play Division I football.
His options weren't limited he graduated with a 4.3 grade point
average from Rio Mesa High School. He was a walk-on for Cal's
football team, but finished off with a scholarship and a degree in
political science. He also earned a master's degree in education in
Despite his charmed life, his father says things usually don't come
easy for Scott his son just works hard.
The NFL came calling and Scott was drafted out of college in the
fifth round to the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first year, he was
honored with the club's Mack Lee Hill Award, an honor presented
annually to the team's top rookie or first-year performer. In his
second season as a full-time starter, Scott led the defense with 112
Then he injured his ankle and rumors swirled about whether he would
get back in the game. When he was ready, the team had spent the
money elsewhere and Scott asked to be traded.
A week before the 2005 season started, the JA headed to Texas to
become a Cowboy.
Playing for Parcells
The Dallas Cowboys can best be remembered for its coach's 2004
gaffe. While talking to reporters about his quarterbacks coach Sean
Payton, Coach Bill Parcells said the team had a few "Jap plays,"
adding "Surprise things."
"I don't take things like that lightly," said Fujita about racial
slurs. He had not heard about Parcell's ethnic slur. "Like I said, I
feel privileged to have dual heritage, and I didn't face much
personal ridicule, but you hear comments here and there. People grow
up in different places I have called people out before and they've
apologized." If he knew about the comment, Scott said he would've
confronted Parcells about that and he's confidant that the coach
Ironically, Payton is now head coach of the Saints, where Scott in
March signed a four-year, $12 million contract.
He arrived in New Orleans after the storms.
"When you see it in person, it's a lot worse." He was in town
looking for a place to live and they drove through the 9th Ward. "It
just blew me away."
One year after the hurricanes tore the Gulf Coast apart, Scott along
with teammate Reggie Bush expect to restore some hope in the region.
Help change one person at a time, said Scott. "I know who I am."