The NFL is getting it right this time, and sweeping change will likely soon be coming to the league's policy concerning domestic violence and sexual assault.
In one of the more stunning moves of Commissioner Roger Goodell's tenure, he outlined a proposal that calls for a player who commits a domestic violence act to be suspended six games for the first offense, with a lifetime ban for the second.
Goodell's memo to the owners was obtained by Bleacher Report and other media outlets. Some of the highlights:
Since becoming Commissioner, my focus has been on ensuring that the NFL is held in the highest regard by our fans, players, business partners, and public authorities. My commitment has always been to do what is right and to protect the integrity of the game, both now and long into the future.
Recently, we have addressed issues of respect—respect for co-workers, opponents, fans, game officials, and others. Whether in the context of workplace conduct, advancing policies of diversity and inclusion, or promoting professionalism in all we do, our mission has been to create and sustain model workplaces filled with people of character. Although the NFL is celebrated for what happens on the field, we must be equally vigilant in what we do off the field.
At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. 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. I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.
Goodell does something in the memo he has rarely done publicly, which is admit he was wrong. His statement that the Ray Rice penalty of just two games wasn't enough is a striking and adult admission. He deserves credit for that.
The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard, and properly so. Much of the criticism stemmed from a fundamental recognition 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. We will listen openly, engage our critics constructively, and seek continuous improvement in everything we do. We will use this opportunity to create a positive outcome by promoting policies of respect for women both within and outside of the workplace. We will work with nationally recognized experts to ensure that the NFL has a model policy on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will invest time and resources in training, programs and services that will become part of our culture. And we will increase the sanctions imposed on NFL personnel who violate our policies.
This policy wouldn't be window dressing. It'd be substantive and real.
The union issued this response to the memo, but it's unclear if it will accept what Goodell is proposing. What is clear is that Goodell has the power to make it league policy, without a vote from the owners.
All indications are that these policies could be enacted soon, unless the union puts up a huge fight. The union would face a public-perception problem if it did, as it would appear to be trying to stop measures taken to cease domestic violence and sexual assault.
One of the key parts of what Goodell is proposing is this:
Fifth, we recognize that domestic violence and sexual assault are broad social issues, affecting millions of people. We want our public role to be both constructive and effective. In the coming months, we will explore meaningful ways to incorporate domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention into our public service work. We will do this with the assistance of responsible outside organizations and the potential participation of current and former players, coaches and families who have been affected and are willing to speak out. Actions we take in this respect will be sensitive, thoughtful and will recognize the positive role models and high character presented by so many men in the NFL.
I know from speaking to officials from the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence that they have met with the NFL within the past year and suggested the NFL use players in public service announcements. It appears the NFL listened to them and others.
Goodell's memo concludes:
Finally, and consistent with our Personal Conduct Policy, our own response to domestic violence or sexual assault incidents by NFL personnel will include new elements of evaluation, treatment and family support, as well as enhanced discipline. We will address these issues fairly and thoughtfully, respecting the rights of all involved and giving proper deference to law enforcement and the courts. If someone is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault, there will be a mandatory evaluation and, where professionally indicated, counseling or other specialized services. Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. 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. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL; while an individual may petition for reinstatement after one year, there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary standards will apply to all NFL personnel.
Give the NFL credit for getting it right. Give the same to Goodell.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.