The NFL on Thursday "significantly ramped up its penalties for domestic violence" after it "admitted its error" in suspending Ravens RB Ray Rice for just two games, according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter announced that a first offense will result in six-game penalty, and a second offense will result in "at least a year." Goodell: "At times … despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence." Farmer reports the rule "applies to all league personnel," as opposed to only players. If someone "is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault, there will be mandatory evaluation and counseling or other specialized services, when professionally indicated." A second offense "would trigger an indefinite suspension of at least a year, although a player could apply for reinstatement." Goodell in the letter "outlined a six-step plan for dealing with such incidents in the league, including prompt and confidential assistance to anyone at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, whether as a victim or potential aggressor." Farmer notes of the country's four major pro sports leagues, the NFL "now has the strictest mandatory punishment for first-time domestic violence offenders" (L.A. TIMES, 8/29). In N.Y., Ken Belson reports Goodell's letter amounted to a "rare mea culpa." Goodell wrote, "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." Belson notes the "about-face" from Goodell was "stunning in its earnestness and clarity." Coming a month after Rice' suspension, Goodell’s decision "appeared considered, not rushed." But it also is one of the "few times during his eight-year tenure that Goodell has publicly admitted to making such a mistake" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/29).
ENFORCEMENT YET TO BE SEEN: USA TODAY's Tom Pelissero notes it "remains to be seen how Goodell will enforce the revised policy." First offenders "will be subject to harsher penalties," but the "authority remains with Goodell." The letter does not specify what "mitigating factors" might result in a lesser ban or whether a player "such as Rice -- who was accepted into a pretrial diversion program that upon completion will dismiss the third-degree aggravated assault charge against him -- would actually get the six-game ban" (USA TODAY, 8/29). FS1's Mike Garafolo said, "Each individual case will be handled based on its merits." He added, "When it pertains to mitigating circumstances for a first offense, that could be more than six games. Goodell could right off the bat suspend a guy more than the six games" (“America’s Pregame,” FS1, 8/28). SI’s Lee Jenkins noted there are "going to be cases where they're going to need more than six games." Jenkins: "Not all episodes of domestic violence are created equal, and you're going to have instances like Rice” (“Rome,” CBSSN, 8/28). In Charlotte, Person & Jones note Panthers DE Greg Hardy faces a "potential punishment following a July conviction for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and he appealed for a jury trial set for November." Though the letter "doesn’t state clearly what the league will do with pending cases, Goodell indicates any possible punishment would come after the legal process is complete." Asked specifically about Hardy’s case, an NFL spokesperson in an e-mail wrote each case "will be addressed individually on its merits" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/29).
UNILATERAL MOVE, SAYS UNION: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Kevin Clark notes the new penalties "were implemented without the formal input" of the NFLPA -- an "unusual step in a league where most disciplinary matters are collectively bargained." The union on Thursday said that it "was told of the changes the same day they were announced, and added, 'if we believe that players' due process rights are infringed upon…we will assert and defend our members' rights'" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/29). In DC, Mark Maske cites sources as saying that NFLPA execs "had left open the possibility of the union challenging increased penalties for players for future domestic violence cases if the NFL implemented such changes unilaterally." The execs contended that any changes to the personal conduct policy "must be collectively bargained with the union" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/29). But FS1's Garafolo said the only way the union is "going to push back is when due process is disrupted." Garafolo: "In other words, only if they feel that the league acts prematurely before the legal process plays out" ("America's Pregame," FS1, 8/28).
LEAGUE APPLAUDS NEW POLICY: Giants President & CEO John Mara said of Goodell, "I applaud him for realizing it was not tough enough and taking the initiative to push through a new policy. I think it’s the right way to go. It’s time we take a stand. Everyone in our league, players, coaches, front-office people, need to understand there is no excuse for domestic violence ever and there is going to be severe consequences." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "He showed leadership with the mea culpa and by establishing this policy. I’m proud of him" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29). Former Raiders Chief Exec Amy Trask: "Just because it wasn't in place before, isn't it great that it is now? People should step back and say we have a chance to do it better. That's what Roger has done" (USATODAY.com, 8/28). Giants WR Victor Cruz: "It's a stern rule and it's something that he kind of had to put his foot down on and it's something the NFL needed" (NEWSDAY, 8/29).
WOMEN'S-RIGHTS GROUPS REACT: In N.Y., Michael O'Keeffe reports Goodell’s announcement "was applauded by the same women’s groups that accused the NFL of being soft on domestic violence, threatening boycotts and putting huge pressure on the league." Goodell "met in recent weeks with representatives from Futures Without Violence and other organizations." Women's-rights group UltaViolet co-Founder Shauna Thomas: "This is a huge day for women and football; finally, the NFL is taking steps to change its policies and show that domestic violence is a crime that will be taken seriously in professional football -- a message that will be heard across professional sports" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29). In a USA TODAY front-page piece, National Coalition Against Violent Athletes Founder Katherine Redmond said, "The trickle-down effect will be huge. It takes a bold step, and that's what it is" (USA TODAY, 8/29). National Network To End Domestic Violence President & CEO Kim Gandy: "What came out of the NFL today is extraordinary in terms of its leadership, its decisiveness and its commitment to really make a difference on this issue" ("Nightly News," NBC, 8/28). National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill: "This is a good start, so I don’t want to come down too heavy because we do want the NFL to make progress, but this is not the be-all-end-all. It’s only progress and they’re a long ways from doing it right" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 8/29).