In the wake of criticism over a two-game suspension for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, the NFL has established a six-game unpaid ban for personnel who violate the league’s policy on domestic violence and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense.
The new policy was announced in a letter (copy of which was obtained by ESPN), from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the owners of the league’s 32 teams and apply to all NFL personnel. The policy, effective immediately, also applies to other types of violence.
“Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant,” the letter states.
Goodell noted the circumstances that would warrant a longer suspension include prior incidents before joining the NFL, violence involving choking, repeated blows, or the use of a weapon. They also include violent acts committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.
The increased penalties for domestic violence did not have to be collectively bargained because they fall under the personal conduct policy. The NFL Payers Association issued the following statement: “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. 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.”
Without referring to Rice by name, Goodell acknowledged in his letter that he made the wrong decision in that case. “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. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Rice was suspended for two games after video showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée Janay – whom he later married—from an elevator. Rice resolved the charges stemming from the incident and entered a pretrial intervention program in May. Under the program, he won’t be prosecuted, and the charges will be expunged after a year, accord to the league.
The punishments for Rice, both from the NFL and the criminal justice system, were widely decried as too light, quickly spiraling into debates over domestic violence and victim-blaming.
The letter advises teams to distribute a memo about the new policy to each player and all members of the organizations. The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy specifies that employees are “held to a higher standard.”
“Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime,” it states.
The NFL regular season is 16 games. Lifetime bans may be appealed after a year.