In a letter sent Thursday to NFL team owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the league will institute new penalties for employees who commit domestic violence.
Effective immediately, league employees, including players, coaches and other staff who commit assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force, will be suspended without pay for six games for their first offense, and will be banned for life for a second offense.
The changes mark a marked shift for the NFL. In July, the league suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games after he assaulted his then-fiancée.
Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for an entire season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The severity of Gordon’s punishment, which came just a month after Rice’s punishment, has drawn widespread criticism.
In his letter, Goodell apologized for what he characterized as an unacceptable policy on domestic violence:
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.
Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances. That has been and remains our policy.
Ruth Glenn, interim executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence told RH Reality Check that the policy change is a huge step forward.
“It’s a great step forward. We’re encouraged that the nfl is taking this so seriously. Someone has to step up and say we need change, and we are encouraged that Goodell has done that,” Glenn said.