Entertainment & Sports Law

New NFL policy imposes 6-game suspension for domestic or sexual assault, banishment for 2nd offense


In a letter sent Thursday to all National Football League team owners, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admits he “didn’t get it right” when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice got a two-game suspension for allegedly striking the woman to whom he is now married.

Six months ago, a grainy video emerged of Rice dragging his then-fiancée out of a casino elevator, the Associated Press reported. Rice has never explained exactly what happened, but he has called his actions “totally unexcusable.”

Focusing on the need for respect throughout the NFL’s operations and calling domestic violence and sexual assault unacceptable, Goodell promised he and the league will do better in the future. Toward that goal, he announces revisions to the league’s personal conduct policy, enhanced training and family support programs for all personnel and standard penalties of an unpaid six-game suspension for the first domestic violence or sexual assault incident and banishment from the NFL for a second offense.

“Although the NFL is celebrated for what happens on the field, we must be equally vigilant in what we do off the field,” Goodell wrote in a letter obtained by the Associated Press. The new program, he said, will show that “the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we can project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football. We embrace this role and the responsibility that comes with it.”

USA Today has published a copy of the lengthy letter, which explains the new standards and programs in detail. It indicates there will be flexibility in imposing the six-game suspension, depending on unspecified “mitigating factors.” However, an increased penalty could also be applied for a first offense, depending on the circumstances.

“Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child,” Goodell writes. An individual who is banished may apply for reinstatement after one year, but there is “no presumption or assurance” his petition will be granted.

It isn’t clear from the letter what the process will be for determining whether a violation has occurred, although a mandatory evaluation is required if an individual is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault.

“We will address these issues fairly and thoughtfully,” Goodell says, “respecting the rights of all involved and giving proper deference to law enforcement and the court.”

It appears from the letter that the not only players will be subject to the personal conduct policy: “These disciplinary standards will apply to all NFL personnel,” Goodell writes.

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