The meat of the issue: Fuller busted for small potatoes

April 22, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

LET'S NOT PUT Ravens defensive back Corey Fuller in an orange jump suit just yet.

He's no Bam Morris, and he wasn't indicted on drug conspiracy charges the way teammate Jamal Lewis was two months ago. He isn't facing double murder charges, either. But Fuller was arrested Tuesday night and charged with hosting high-stakes card games in his Florida home.

His face was plastered all over the Internet yesterday after leaving jail. He became part of hourly radio broadcasts. He made the ESPN lowlights. You would have thought Fuller was a riverboat gambler stacking the deck or had a few cards up his sleeves to rip off millions.

But Fuller was busted because Florida doesn't allow a card player to gamble for more than $10 a hand, and a sheriff's spokeswoman, Lt. Linda Butler, said some pots were worth thousands of dollars, and that games were held several times a week.

Fuller was busted for chump change.

As of yesterday, some Ravens fans wanted to run Fuller out of town because he has become the central figure in this offseason from hell. Nearly three months ago, Fuller and an intruder exchanged gunfire at his house; no one was injured.

But this arrest has the odor of a fish kill.

According to lawyer Ben Crump, Fuller was never involved in any gambling, and many of the 11 people inside the house (eight of whom were arrested) were playing video games when the raid began. The most money one person had was $300, Crump said.

It's hard to condemn Fuller if he participated in a game in which the stakes were higher than $10. You would expect as much from Fuller, who has made more than $10 million during a nine-year NFL career. A thousand dollars to Fuller is like a dollar to most of us.

There must be a bigger picture here. Maybe Fuller or some family members are being targeted because of the previous incident. Maybe some of his friends are involved in other criminal investigations. Maybe law enforcers want to curtail the flow of people in and out of Fuller's home. Maybe Fuller is under scrutiny because he is a pro athlete.

It just seems so absurd that Fuller would be arrested, especially with poker contests all over our TV sets and with millionaire casino owner Donald Trump enjoying renewed popularity.

"We have every belief and confidence that when the matter is completed, he will be fully innocent," said Crump, whose client faces a possible five-year state prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. "This whole thing boggles the mind. If they had seen him [Fuller] gamble, wouldn't they have put it in the charges?

"Corey grew up on the south side of Tallahassee, and continues to live and support his community," Crump added. "It's not the best community, but it's his community. A lot of people he grew up with are still lifelong friends, even though several have gone in different directions."

That sounds like Fuller. He will never forget his roots. If you know a little about him, people always hang around him. He has charisma and leadership ability, and those were the two major reasons the Ravens signed him last offseason.

The team wanted Fuller to work with young players like safety Ed Reed and cornerback Gary Baxter, and to teach a veteran like Chris McAlister about work ethic. They wanted him to become the next Shannon Sharpe or Rod Woodson.

Coach Brian Billick and former assistant coach Donnie Henderson got a lot of credit for turning the troubled McAlister around last season, but Fuller had just as much impact.

People gravitate to Fuller. He is good at putting losses and wins in perspective, while offering great insight. Since coming to Baltimore, he has been one of the Ravens' most active workers off the field, spending numerous hours visiting hospitals, prisons and charitable organizations.

Fuller has faults. He is impulsive at times, but at other times, he has the steadiness of a heart surgeon.

Could he have been involved in a high-stakes poker game?

Maybe. Card games have become a hobby for a lot of players, especially on coast-to-coast flights before and after games. Former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa once bragged that he won $50,000 on a flight. Two other former Ravens - Sharpe and Vinny Testaverde - probably have played in as many card games as football games.

It's fun and a way to make things less tedious. Players are no different from the rest of us. If this was a makeshift casino, then Fuller deserves to go to jail. If this was just one of several nights out, then what's the big deal?

Even though it's Florida law, authorities shouldn't have the right to burst into a person's home and tell him he can't play poker or blackjack for a certain wager. Fuller's record has been pretty clean, except for a few traffic violations.

It's not the kind of stuff that puts him in the felon class, and neither does possibly hosting a high-stakes poker game.

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