NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is now admitting he "didn't get it right" when he suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for just two games following a widely publicized incident of domestic violence against his then-fiancee, which was caught on tape and made national headlines.
Rice was arrested in February for allegedly knocking out Janay Palmer after an argument at an Atlantic City, N.J. hotel. Surveillance footage showed Rice dragging an apparently unconscious Palmer out of an elevator following the altercation.
Goodell on Thursday rolled out what he called new actions to "reinforce and enhance" existing league policies on domestic violence and sexual assault. "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," Goodell said in an official letter sent to all 32 league owners and teams that was later made public to the press.
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances. That has been and remains our policy," Goodell wrote.
In his letter, Goodell said he has been reviewing the league's personal conduct policy in recent weeks and has identified steps the NFL can take to better educate players and personnel. "Our goals are to prevent violence, impose appropriate discipline, provide professional support resources when appropriate, and publicly embrace a leadership role on this issue," said Goodell.
The commissioner's recommendations include:
- Expanding the scope of education on domestic violence and sexual assault for all NFL personnel.
- Comprehensive training to help identify risk factors associated with domestic violence and sexual assault.
- NFL LifeLine and Total Wellness programs to offer confidential assistance to anyone at risk.
- Expanding educational components in college, high school and youth football programs.
- Incorporating domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention into public service work.
"I think it's very positive," Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told msnbc. "[The NFL] is very committed to being a model workplace on these issues and they want to take a leadership role in changing public attitudes."
Gandy said that the NNEDV worked alongside Goodell and the NFL to help them understand that "the connection of masculinity and violence is in part cultural," and she is convinced that the league "has a sincere commitment" to influencing the public in a positive way.
"I feel very hopeful," she said.
The most significant reform Goodell has made may be a tweak to the NFL's personal conduct policy. Going forward, Goodell said, "if someone is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault, there will be a mandatory evaluation and, where professionally indicated, counseling or other specialized services. Effective immediately, 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."
According to Goodell, examples of actions that would warrant a more severe punishment include: "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 will result in banishment from the NFL; while an individual may petition for reinstatement after one year, there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary standards will apply to all NFL personnel," Goodell added.
Rice pleaded not guilty to assault charges and was sentenced to a pretrial intervention program. He and Palmer have since married. After a poorly received initial apology in May, Rice made a second public appearance following his arrest in July in which he said, “My actions were inexcusable. That’s something I have to live with the rest of my life.”
Several sport fans and commentators have pointed out the irony that NFL players, such as wide receivers Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon, recently received harsher punishments from the league for drug possession than Rice did for allegedly assaulting his future spouse.
The NFL Players Association was less than enthusiastic with their response to Goodell's letter. "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," the NFLPA said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the NNEDV has pledged to continue working with the NFL to implement reforms.
"Commissioner Goodell acknowledged his mistake, took ownership of it, and is determined to make the NFL a model for the nation in addressing these complex issues," Gandy said in a statement. "This is a huge step, and we are proud to work with the NFL toward ending violence against women."