NEW YORK — Acknowledging he "didn't get it right" with a two-game suspension of Ravens running back Ray Rice, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday tougher penalties for players accused of domestic violence, including a six-week suspension for a first offense and at least a year for a second.
In a letter sent to all 32 team owners, Goodell never mentions Rice by name but makes clear references to the 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."
The suspensions would be without pay, and the policy applies to all NFL employees, Goodell wrote.
The commissioner told teams to distribute his memo to all players and to post it in locker rooms. It reads in part: "Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances."
The memo says that 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 Players Association said it had been informed of the increased punishments.
"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," the union statement said.
The personal conduct policy is not subject to collective bargaining with the union, and the commissioner has leeway to impose punishments for such off-field violations. Attorney Michael McCann, who specializes in sports law, said the new domestic violence policy could be challenged via antitrust law because it wasn't collectively bargained and it affects players' employment.
An initial domestic violence offense will draw a six-week ban, though 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.
Goodell's statement did not stipulate whether the commissioner would act before a player is charged.
While other leagues employ an independent arbitrator to hear player appeals, the NFL is essentially the judge and jury in disciplinary cases not covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
Since January 2000, 77 players have been involved in 85 domestic violence incidents, with six being cut by their teams, USA Today's NFL Arrests Database says. The league suspended six players for one game each, and Rice was the second player to be suspended for two games.
Goodell's letter doesn't state clearly how the league will handle pending cases, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email, "Each case will be addressed individually on its merits."