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NFL Cracks Down on Domestic Violence After Criticism

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The NFL said Thursday that it would impose stricter penalties on players and any other league personnel who commit domestic abuse, following fierce criticism of a two-game suspension it handed down to a player who allegedly beat his fiancée.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement in a letter to team owners, saying that anyone in the league who violates its Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will face a six-game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. And he alluded to the outrage that followed the two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who had been indicted for allegedly hitting his now wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious.

“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,” Goodell wrote. “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,” he continued. “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.”

The NFL suspended Rice last month for two games. A video posted online appeared to show Rice dragging his unconscious then fiancée out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino after the alleged incident.

In the letter, Goodell also announced a series of education and training for players and all NFL personnel, additional support for educational programs in schools and youth football programs, and a campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault and prevention.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong,” read a memo to all NFL personnel that was included in the letter. “They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.”

The NFL Players Association reacted cautiously to the change Thursday.

“We were informed today of the NFL’s decision to increase penalties on domestic violence offenders under the Personal Conduct Policy for all NFL employees,” the players’ union said in a statement. “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.”

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Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com