In direct response to widespread public criticism over Ray Rice's recent two-game suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell accepted blame in a memorandum to all 32 of the league's owners, introducing a new policy with severe penalties for future domestic abuse and sexual assault violations.
While Goodell did not mention the Baltimore Ravens running back by name, his memo was a clear reaction to the controversy surrounding the rather lenient disciplinary action taken after Rice allegedly knocked his then-fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator this past February.
In the memo obtained by Yahoo Sports, Goodell went so far as to admit, "I didn't get it right."
"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."
Also in the memo, which can be read in its entirety here, Goodell announced a mandatory six-game suspension for first-time violators of the league's new policy on domestic abuse and sexual assault. A second violation will result in a potential lifetime ban from the NFL.
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.
This is no small concession from Goodell's office, even if it is long overdue. While Rice admitted the incident was "the biggest mistake of my life" and "my actions that night were totally inexcusable" during a press conference, he pled not guilty and ultimately settled into a pre-trial intervention program to avoid jail time, and the NFL initially used that in defense of its two-game suspension.
"The discipline that was taken by the NFL is the only discipline that occurred with respect to Mr. Rice in this case,” Adolpho Birch, the league's vice president of labor policy and government affairs, told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike show last month. “Were he not an NFL player, I don’t know that he would have received punishment from any other source.
"We believe that the discipline we issued is appropriate. It’s multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars (in fines). It doesn’t reflect that we condone the behavior.”
Goodell completely reversed course on that stance Thursday, also announcing expanded educational and support programs for league personnel, youth football players and community members — all of which could have been instituted prior to Rice's two-game penalty.
The memo comes a day after the NFL upheld the one-year suspension of Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon for a positive marijuana test.
Around the league: