Julius Wilson said he did what any son would for his father.
His dad, Cass Fullen, believes the 26-year-old might have saved his life.
Unfortunately, the Orlando Predators offensive lineman committed what is considered a cardinal sin in professional sports: He left the field and jumped into the stands Saturday night in his team’s Arena Football League game at the St. Pete Times Forum against the Tampa Bay Storm.It could likely get the former Southeast High football/basketball standout a suspension and hurt his chances of getting back into the NFL. But he insists there was no other option.
“I went up in the stands to protect my dad. I did what any child would do for his parents,” Wilson said in an interview Monday with the Herald. He was in Orlando where he practiced with his team. “If someone jumps on your parents, you help. He was on the ground, and one dude came over and kicked him and another came to punch him.”
But the league also might have no choice. AFL president Jerry Kurz made it clear how he feels about players going into what is considered forbidden territory.
“It is unacceptable anytime for a player to go into the stands and have such a confrontation or interaction of a physical nature with anyone and will not be tolerated or condoned by the league,” Kurz said in an e-mail to the Bradenton Herald. “If the allegations are proven, so they are no longer allegations, the appropriate discipline will be imposed without fail.”
Wilson said he asked teammate Bobby Sippio to sign a football after he scored a touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the first half. He gave the ball to his dad, who had come down from the stands and was standing behind the Predators bench.
After he handed the ball to his father, Wilson said his dad was attacked and thrown to the ground as he tried to walk back up the stands. Wilson and Sippio came to his aid and leaped into the stands.
“My son gave me the football and then about five or 10 guys came out of the stands into the middle of the walkway and attacked me out of the clear blue sky,” Wilson’s father said.
“My son saw it and came to my rescue. Is there a rule that says because you are an athlete you can’t protect your father?
“I don’t think anything should happen to him. If they suspend him it’s wrong. He didn’t hit anybody. He was just trying to get people off me. My neck and back are still bothering me from the incident. One guy tried to punch me when I was on the ground.”
Wilson and Sippio were ejected immediately for leaving the bench in a game Orlando easily won 75-60 before a season-high crowd of 17,302 at the arena.
The Predators travel to Jacksonville on Friday in their playoff opener against the Sharks. Team officials hope to have an answer Wednesday on whether Wilson and Sippio will be allowed to play.
His dad had just been released from the hospital about two weeks ago after a month-long stay because of illness, which Wilson said heightened his concern.
Wilson had been out of football and was struggling to get back into the outdoor game either with the Orlando Tuskers of the United Football League or the NFL where he previously spent some time with the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The former University of Alabama-Birmingham player joined the Predators about two months ago, played in eight games and is one of the team’s captains. He was hoping to get some national attention to improve his chances — but not this way. News of the incident spread across the national airways and the internet.
“I am very worried that I might get suspended, but if they suspend me for something like this that is not right,” Wilson said. “The security guard and staff did not even come over to help. They called it a melee, but it lasted for about 45 seconds. If the league calls me and asked me what happened, I wouldn’t be worried, but no one has called me from the league.”
Professional sports has been very sensitive about players going into the stands since an NBA incident in November 2004, when Ron Artest went into the stands at the Place of Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons, and fought with fans.
A player striking a fan, or fan striking a player, Kurz said, is a matter for local authorities to handle. Going into the stands falls under league jurisdiction.
“This can’t be compared with the Artest incident,” Wilson said. “They threw punches. I came into the stands to pick up my father, who was fresh out of the hospital, and I didn’t hit anyone. When it was over, he felt bad because he felt like he started everything. Our team wound up giving him a football signed by everybody.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext.2112.