Reacting to a spate of recent domestic violence cases involving several NFL players, the league's 32 teams unanimously approved a revised personal conduct policy for all league employees. The owners voted on the new program at a one-day meeting in Dallas.
The policy calls for a baseline suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, other forms of family violence, or sexual assault. The policy also offers specific criteria for paid leave for an individual charged with a crime of violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
The program will offer additional NFL-funded counseling services for victims, families, and violators, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct, independent investigative procedures beyond standard law enforcement, specific criteria for paid leave for an individual formally charged with a crime of violence, and an expert group of outside advisors to review and evaluate potential violations.
"With considerable assistance from the many people and organizations we consulted, NFL ownership has endorsed an enhanced policy that is significantly more robust, thorough and formal," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "This will better enable us to make appropriate decisions and ensure accountability for everyone involved in the process."
Goodell, who admitted in August and then again in September that the NFL mishandled the Ray Rice suspension, had vowed to update the policy to be more reflective of more appropriate treatment of players and other league employees who become involved in similar incidents. Rice, the former Ravens running back, initially was suspended only two games for knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February, a decision roundly criticized for not being forceful enough.
Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely after a video posted on TMZ Sports showed him delivering the punch that sent Janay Palmer into a railing in the elevator. Rice was reinstated last month after an appeal, but hasn't been signed by a new team.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's case involving child abuse also prompted the league to revise the policy.
The new program was unveiled after extensive discussions with domestic violence experts, current and former players and the NFL Players Association. The union preferred that the new policy be collectively bargained, but the league resisted those efforts.
The NFLPA issued a terse statement reflecting its continued frustration about dealing with the league over personal conduct issues.
"Our union has not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL's new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses," the statement said. "Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months."
The statement made no mention of potential action the union might take.
Goodell will cede some of his authority in implementing the new policy by appointing a "highly qualified league office executive with a criminal justice background" to issue initial disciplinary measures. Goodell, however, has reserved the right to decide appeals of individual cases and to name a panel of independent experts to be involved in any appeal.
According to the revised policy, the new disciplinary officer will oversee the league's investigatory procedures and determine violations of the conduct policy.
Goodell also has appointed a new league conduct committee that includes representatives of NFL ownership, with advice from outside experts. Committee members include Michael Bidwill of the Cardinals, Arthur Blank of the Falcons, Clark Hunt of the Chiefs and two former players involved in ownership groups -- Warrick Dunn (Falcons) and John Stallworth (Steelers).
Also on the committee are Dee Haslam, the wife of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, and Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The committee will regularly review the policy and make recommendations if changes are warranted.