By Sam Farmer
Los Angeles Times.
In a letter and accompanying memo sent Thursday to every NFL 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 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.
The memo reads as follows:
MEMORANDUM TO ALL NFL PERSONNEL
Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.
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.
Earlier today, I sent NFL owners a letter that identified specific actions we will take to improve our response to domestic violence and sexual assault. Those actions include the following:
— All NFL Personnel will participate in new and enhanced educational programs on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will also increase our outreach to college and youth football programs.
— Families will receive detailed information about available services and resources, both through the club and independent of the club. These resources and services will be available to employees and their families on a confidential basis.
— Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to enhanced discipline. A first offense will be subject to a suspension of six weeks without pay.
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Mitigating circumstances will be considered, and more severe discipline will be imposed if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of 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 will result in banishment from the league; an offender may petition for reinstatement after one year but there is no assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary consequences apply to all NFL personnel.
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If you believe that you or someone you know may be at risk of domestic violence or other misconduct, we strongly encourage you to seek assistance through your club’s director of player engagement, human resources department, the NFL LifeLine or an independent local domestic violence resource. Help is available and can prevent potentially tragic incidents.