Football / Sports

NFL toughens its stance against domestic violence

In a letter and accompanying memo sent Thursday to every National Football League team owner, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a significant change in the league's policy against domestic violence, with a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a lifetime ban from the league on a second offense.

The move comes in the wake of strident criticism of a two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who knocked out his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator. That punishment was widely regarded as far too light.

In the letter, obtained by the Los Angeles Times and other selected news outlets, Goodell wrote that "at times ... despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place.

"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. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."

Saying 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."

Goodell wrote that if someone -- not just players, but any NFL employee -- is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault, there will be a mandatory evaluation and, where professionally indicated, counseling or other specialized services. Violation of the league's personal-conduct policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involves physical force will result in a six-game suspension without pay for players.

There are special circumstances that would merit a harsher penalty for first-time offenders, among those "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."

A second offense would trigger a lifetime ban. Though a player could file for reinstatement after a year, there's no assurance that would be granted.

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