NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced a dramatic new domestic violence policy for the league Thursday, admitting “I didn’t get it right” with Ray Rice.
The measures were announced in a letter to all team owners and come after widespread criticism and a social media firestorm that Goodell absorbed following his handling of discipline for the Baltimore Ravens running back.
A first offense under the new domestic violence policy calls for a six-game suspension, while a second offense would result in a lifetime ban.
The two-game suspension for Rice left many with the impression that the NFL did not take domestic violence seriously as a crime.
“At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals,” Goodell wrote in the letter. “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.”
The letter states the six-game suspension for a first offense could be increased in some cases.
“Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child,” Goodell wrote “A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL.”
Players would be able to apply for reinstatement. The letter states that the policy applies to all NFL personnel — not just players.
“We were informed today of the NFL’s decision to increase penalties on domestic violence offenders under the Personal Conduct Policy for all NFL employees,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement. “As we do in all disciplinary matters, if we believe that players’ due process rights are infringed upon during the course of discipline, we will assert and defend our members’ rights.”
Rice was arrested Feb. 15, after he allegedly struck his then-fiancee, and now wife, Janay Palmer unconscious during an altercation at an Atlantic City hotel. Surveillance video surfaced online showing Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator.
In July, Goodell announced that Rice would be suspended for the first two games of the regular season.
The Ravens have supported Rice in the case, citing his sterling reputation before the incident. The media and public reaction on Twitter and elsewhere was that the NFL sent the wrong message to Rice and other domestic violence offenders.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), as well as Maine Gov. Paul LePage, sent letters to Goodell calling for Rice to face harsher sanctions.
In late July, NFL vice president Adolpho Birch called Rice’s punishment “appropriate,” and days later Goodell explained that, “We have a very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL. I think what’s important here is Ray is taking responsibility. He’s been accountable for his actions.”
But In the letter to owners Thursday, Goodell acknowledged that he didn’t handle the Rice case correctly.
“The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard, and properly so,” Goodell wrote. “Much of the criticism stemmed from a fundamental recognition that the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we can project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football. We embrace this role and the responsibility that comes with it.
“We will listen openly, engage our critics constructively, and seek continuous improvement in everything we do. We will use this opportunity to create a positive outcome by promoting policies of respect for women both within and outside of the workplace. We will work with nationally recognized experts to ensure that the NFL has a model policy on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will invest time and resources in training, programs and services that will become part of our culture. And we will increase the sanctions imposed on NFL personnel who violate our policies.”