Ken Hare in Depth: NFL players hit harder for domestic violence than federal judge

Ken Hare in Depth: NFL players hit harder for domestic violence than federal judge

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A few weeks ago, the National Football League was being battered in the court of public opinion for its ridiculously lenient treatment of a professional football player who struck his wife. But now the NFL appears to be leagues ahead of the federal court system in how it treats domestic abusers.

As the NFL story was unwinding, so was the sad story of U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, who was arrested and charged with beating his wife in a hotel in Atlanta.

While the final chapter has not been written to either of these sordid stories, it currently appears that the NFL is taking the high ground by adopting a strong policy that would -- if enforced -- come down hard on players, coaches and others in the NFL system who engage in domestic violence.

That stands in sharp contrast to the federal judicial system, which so far has allowed Fuller to escape any significant punishment for his alleged abuse.  News reports indicate that according to a police report, Fuller's wife had lacerations and claimed her husband hit her several times in the mouth.

Although Fuller has had his caseload reassigned to other judges by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he continues to draw his full salary of almost $200,000 per year.

Last week Fuller was allowed to enter a pre-trial diversion program, and if he completes the 24 weeks of counseling required of the program, he could have his record expunged.

In other words,  legally it would be as if the violence never occurred.

Contrast that to the NFL's new policy. Violations involving domestic violence or sexual assault would bring a minimum six-game suspension for a first offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second offense. Both suspensions would be without pay. That means for a first offense, an NFL player would lose 37 percent of their base pay for a year and at least a full year's pay for a second offense.

Several weeks ago the NFL was excoriated by domestic violence experts and the public for its outrageously lenient punishment of a two-game suspension of  Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for striking his wife and apparently knocking her unconscious.

To his credit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he "didn't get it right" in the Rice case and moved to adopt the more stringent policy that could force a player, coach, general manager or league official to be suspended for at least a year and possibly for life for a second offense.

Goodell said: "My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. ... I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."

Again, it remains to be seen how either of these stories will play out.

For instance, a new video has emerged that shows Rice actually striking his wife and her falling down. That opened the door for Goodell to strengthen Rice's punishment. On Monday, the Ravens fired him and Goodell suspended him indefinitely.

Going forward, it remains to be seen how stringently the new NFL policy on domestic violence will be enforced, although the Rice case indicates that Goodell does intend to stand behind  it. As with any such policy, enforcement is the key. It also is possible that the player's union will challenge the new policy in court.

As far as Fuller is concerned, there remains the possibility that he will face something more than just a taxpayer-financed vacation and the expunging of his criminal record. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals cannot remove Fuller from the bench -- only Congress can do that through the impeachment process -- nor can the court stop his pay. But it can censure him, and at least that much should be done.

Just as the new NFL policy allows a lifetime ban for a repeat domestic violence offender, Congress should impeach and remove from office any federal judge -- including Fuller -- who is involved in more than one occurrence of domestic violence.

The NFL seems to have gotten the message that domestic violence is not to be tolerated. It remains to be seen whether the federal court system is just as enlightened.

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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