NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to team owners Thursday that he is increasing sanctions for any player or club official involved in domestic violence.
Goodell was criticized heavily for not punishing Ravens running back Ray Rice more harshly after he was charged with aggravated assault against his fiancee in an Atlantic City casino last February.
Goodell told owners that players will be subject to a six-game suspension for a first domestic violence incident and expulsion from the league for a second offense. He acknowledged in the letter that he "didn't get it right'' when he suspended Rice for only two games for allegedly hitting the woman who is now his wife.
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong,'' he said. "They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.''
A six-week suspension would be without pay, and the penalty could be longer in these cases: if a player or employee was involved in a previous incident before joining the NFL; if it involved a weapon, choking or repeated striking, or was committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.
After a second offense, a player or employee can petition for reinstatement after a year, but with no guarantee the petition would be granted.
The collective-bargaining agreement gives Goodell wide latitude for punishment, but the NFL Players Association is reserving judgment on this. It indicated that if it believes Goodell is punishing a player too harshly, it is prepared to challenge the ruling.
Speaking of his Rice ruling, Goodell said: "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.''
Goodell outlined a six-point plan to heighten attention to domestic violence. It includes enhanced training of rookies in the annual symposium and distributing information about league resources and local advocacy groups, comprehensive training through league and team human resources services, increased confidential assistance to anyone at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, and increased public service work.
Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families, a leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, said in a statement that Goodell's actions reflect progress.
"While I firmly believe that the NFL must have a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence and sexual assault, Commissioner Goodell's tougher new penalties are an important step in the right direction, as is his admission that he 'didn't get it right' with the Ray Rice [suspension].''
It remains to be seen if the union will go along with Goodell's plans for increased sanctions. "We were informed today of the NFL's decision to increase penalties on domestic violence offenders under the personal conduct policy . . . , '' the union said in a statement. "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.''
"I think it's good,'' Giants receiver Victor Cruz said. "I think that's not allowed in any scenario for a man to strike his significant other, or the other way around, however it may go. I think it's a stern rule and it's something that he kind of had to put his foot down on and it's something that the NFL needed. It's something that they hadn't addressed because essentially there haven't been any issues with that per se, at least to the magnitude of Ray Rice. So it was something that he had to do, and I think he made the right choice.''
With Tom Rock