NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed the league's long-awaited revised personal conduct policy Wednesday following months of bad press and recriminations in the wake of several domestic violence scandals involving current players.
The new policy includes a minimum suspension of six games without pay for a range of violations; additional NFL-funded counseling for violators, victims and families; an extended list of prohibited conduct; the creation of new, independent investigative procedures; and the appointment of a league disciplinary officer. All 32 NFL teams have endorsed the reforms.
"The policy is comprehensive," Goodell said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Dallas. "It is strong. It is tough. And it is better for everyone associated with the NFL."
While the league's teams unanimously endorsed the new policy, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) released a statement Wednesday saying the union "has not been offered the professional courtesy" of seeing the new policy before it was released to the media. "Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months."
On Sept. 19, Goodell promised to update the NFL's rules before the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, when he proposed that a panel of experts would help develop more effective ways of punishing acts of domestic violence or sexual assault. The move came after the commissioner and the league were widely criticized for initially suspending former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for just two games after video surfaced of him striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February. Goodell later extended Rice's suspension to last indefinitely, a decision that was overturned in court this November.
“I blew it,” Goodell told The Wall Street Journal with regard to his handling of domestic violence issues in the past. “Our penalties didn’t fit the crimes.” Since the fallout of the Rice case, Goodell has met with former players, domestic violence victims advocates and even player union reps. The meeting with the latter group didn't go quite so smoothly.
“We walked out,” DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA's executive director told the Journal. The NFLPA has been criticized for standing by embattled players like Rice and Adrian Peterson and for arguing the conduct policy should be negotiated as part of the union's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL.
The controversy over NFL player violence has loomed like a shadow over this current season and the story struck such a nerve that Goodell was actually a finalist for TIME's Person of the Year.
On Dec. 2, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing to tackle the lack of accountability in not just the NFL but all professional sports when it comes to violence against women. At the hearing, Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill railed against pro sports leagues, which she said have “done little” to address a “problem that exists in the shadows in a very dark and scary place.”
“When you’re worrying more about getting back on the field instead of stopping abuse, your priorities are out of order,” added Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller.
While representatives from the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League all appeared and testified before senators, none of the commissioners of those leagues, including Goodell, showed up. “They were asked to be here and leadership starts at the top,” said New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte about the no-shows. “I think that does say something about how big a commitment there is on this.”
On Wednesday, Goodell was presented with another opportunity to repair not just the NFL's image, but his own.
Although NFL revenues and viewership have increased every year since he became commissioner in 2005, there have also been at least 135 domestic violence allegations made against pro football players since the year 2000, according to internal league documents.
Goodell has reportedly sought the council of controversial NYPD Commissioner William Bratton while formulating his new rules. "We would like to prevent these incidents from occurring. And we're providing resources to do that," Goodell told NBC News' Peter Alexander. "When they do occur, they have to be dealt with -- firmly, consistently, quickly. And we also need to make sure that we're doing the right things for -- the victims and survivors. That's the key thing for us."