On Thursday the NFL announced a major change to the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, specifically regarding domestic violence, sexual assault, battery and assault. In a letter to all of the teams, Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, made the announcement about the league wide changes and apologized for the decision made in the domestic abuse case regarding the Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice.
The changes will now level a six game suspension for a first offense by a league employee, player or non-player, without pay. The second offense carries a minimum one year banishment from the NFL. After the one year banishment, the banned player or employee can petition the league to be reinstated, however, there is no assurance that the league will allow a player or employee reentry into the league. This is essentially a potential lifetime ban.
The sweeping changes to the NFL Personal Conduct Policy follow the backlash after Goodell handed down a two game suspension to Rice after being indicted for aggravated assault of his fiancé in March. A surveillance video showed Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of an Atlantic City elevator, unconscious. Rice and Palmer later married and in June, the Raven’s running back was granted approval to enter a pretrial intervention program. Completion of the program would remove the aggravated assault charge from his record.
Following the two game suspension of Rice, domestic violence awareness groups criticized Goodell and the NFL over the policy that allowed for the lenient penalty and called for a change, requiring the league to hand out a harsher ruling. Late night talk shows also attacked the NFL. Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show lambasted the league’s two game suspension by saying “Unless one of the games is professional football what kind of message do you think this is sending?” Stewart went on to criticized the fact that testing positive for marijuana, a drug now legal in two of the cities the league has teams in (Seattle and Denver), carried a harsher penalty than the penalty Rice received for an offense the is not legal in any city or state in the United States. Stewart went on to say, “To be clear, the NFL suspends you twice as long if what you hit is (a bong).”
While the Ravens running back is sitting out two games for domestic violence under the previous policy’s punishment, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Brown is sitting out for a full year after a positive marijuana test. The Rice suspension led to critics of the leagues arbitrary policy regarding domestic violence in contrast with the marijuana punishments, demanding the league make changes and crack down on anyone in the NFL who hurts women. Letters to Goodell from three members of Congress asked him to reconsider the suspension of Rice, and Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that he would boycott the NFL.
According to a USAToday database on NFL arrests, 85 domestic violence incidents involving 77 players have occurred since 2000. Of those 77 players, six were cut by their respective teams and six players were suspended by the league for one game. Rice became the second player to face a two game suspension. Now, under pressure to change the policy, the league will now come down harder on domestic violence incidents.
Goodell wrote in the letter to the league that sometimes the response, despite the best intentions, falls short. In the response to the Rice situation, the league allowed their standards to fall short. The Commissioner took responsibility for the decision and ensured that in the future, actions will reflect the leagues values. While critics may question a first offense, six game unpaid ban for domestic violence not a harsh enough change to the policy from the NFL, the second offense call for a one-year to a potential lifetime ban is being received as more acceptable. In the case of Rice, Goodell said “I didn’t get it right.”
By Carl Auer