NEW YORK -- The NFL is immediately implementing a sweeping
domestic violence initiative that calls for a six-game suspension for a first
offense and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense.
The measures, announced in a letter from NFL commissioner
Roger Goodell to all team owners, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, apply
to all NFL personnel.
A six-game suspension would be without pay and the length of
the penalty could increase in these cases: an employee was involved in a prior
incident before joining the NFL; violence involving a weapon; choking, repeated
striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman; or in the
presence of a child. A second-time offender may petition for reinstatement
after one year but there is no assurance the petition would be granted, the
The measures come partly in response to intense criticism
Goodell received for his handling of discipline for Baltimore Ravens running
back Ray Rice, who received a two-game suspension in July for assaulting his
then-fiancee in February. Widely viewed as soft punishment, Goodell left many
with the impression that the NFL did not understand domestic violence or take
it seriously as a crime.
Goodell acknowledged as much in the letter.
"At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we
fall short of our goals," Goodell wrote. "We clearly did so in
response to a recent incident of domestic violence. ... 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
take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in
the future properly reflect our values.
"I didn't get it right."
To be counted as an "offense," a player would not
necessarily have to be convicted in a court of law, but each incident will be
judged on its own merits.
"Our personal conduct policy has long made clear that
domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable. We clearly must do a
better job of addressing these incidents in the NFL. And we will," the
The Ravens had no immediate comment on the new policy after
it was announced Thursday.
The league also announced a number of outreach measures. It
will bulk up the domestic violence portion of the rookie symposium, identify at-risk
personnel and offer preventative counseling, and also offer families a phone
number as an emergency resource.
The NFL will also take that message on the road.
"We will expand the educational components in our
college, high school and youth football programs that address domestic violence
and sexual assault," Goodell wrote to owners.
The NFL instructs owners to distribute a memo to all
personnel that details these new expectations and begins: "Domestic
violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never
acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances."
In February, Rice was arrested on a charge of aggravated
assault after knocking out his fiancee in an elevator in Atlantic City, New
Jersey. Surveillance video showed Rice dragging Janay Palmer, who appeared
unconscious, out of the elevator. Unreleased video showed Rice striking Palmer
in the elevator.
In July, Goodell announced that Rice would be suspended for
the first two games of the regular season. There was deep and sustained
criticism from fans and groups who work with victims of domestic violence in
response. The number of games was less than the suspensions given for most
other infractions, such as substance abuse, steroid use or DUI offenses. The
penalty for those items is determined by the collective bargaining agreement
hammered out with the players' union in 2011.
Domestic violence infractions, however, fall under the
personal conduct policy, which meant that Goodell alone was able to determine
the severity of any fine or suspension. The fact that the Ravens held a press
conference with Rice in May and had Janay sitting next to him on the dais also
seemed to imply she shared responsibility -- whether or not that was the
The fact that Goodell reportedly allowed Rice's wife into
the hearing to plead for leniency in front of her husband's employers struck many
"Having done this work for many years, often a victim
will say she doesn't want the abuser punished," said Judy Kluger, a former
New York City judge and current executive director of Sanctuary for Families,
after the decision was announced. "That shouldn't deter what an
independent organization decides to do."
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