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NFL

NFL increases penalties for domestic violence

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 3:43 p.m.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) carries during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 16. Rice received a two-game suspension after he was involved in a domestic violence incident.

NEW YORK — Acknowledging he “didn't get it right” with a two-game suspension for Ravens running back Ray Rice, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties for players accused of domestic violence, including six weeks for a first offense and at least a year for a second.

In a letter sent to all 32 team owners Thursday, Goodell never mentions Rice by name but makes clear references to the Baltimore player who was charged with assault after being caught on video dragging his then-fiancee off a casino elevator.

“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,” Goodell wrote. “I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Since January 2000, 77 players have been involved in 85 domestic violence incidents with six being cut by their teams, according to a USA Today database. The NFL suspended six players for one game each, and Rice was the second player to be suspended for two games.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted in July of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and has appealed for a jury trial set for November. His league punishment has not been announced. Goodell's letter doesn't state clearly how the league will handle pending cases.

Outrage over Rice's punishment prompted three members of Congress to write to the commissioner asking him to reconsider Rice's suspension. The governor of Maine threatened to boycott the league, and numerous groups that advocate for women and families condemned the penalty.

The commissioner told teams to distribute his memo to all players and to post it in locker rooms.

The memo says violations of the league's personal conduct policy “regarding assault, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to enhanced discipline.”

The personal conduct policy is not subject to collective bargaining with the players' union, and the commissioner has leeway to impose punishments for such off-field violations. Goodell's statement also did not stipulate whether the commissioner would act before a player is formally charged.

“We particularly applaud your decision to impose tougher penalties, and to give serious consideration to circumstances that may warrant even harsher consequences,” said Esta Soler, chief executive of the advocacy group “Futures Without Violence,” who met last week with Goodell.

An initial domestic violence offense will draw a six-week ban without pay, although the memo says “more severe discipline will be imposed if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”

A second offense will result in banishment from the league, but a player will be allowed to petition for reinstatement after a year.

“There is no assurance that the petition will be granted,” the memo says.

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