New York (AFP) - National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties for domestic violence Thursday, including potential life bans for repeat offenders, and apologized for issuing a weak abuse penalty last month.
In a letter to team owners outlining revisions to the NFL's personal conduct policy, Goodell said that violations regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault involving physical force will bring a six-game ban without pay and a second offense will bring a minimum one-year ban from the NFL.
Players can seek reinstatement after one year but Goodell warned, "there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted."
The policy applies not only to players but all team personnel.
The moves come after criticism of Goodell's handling of the domestic violence case involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. In July, Goodell issued Rice a two-game suspension for assaulting the woman who later became Rice's wife.
"Our personal conduct policy has long made clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable. We clearly must do a better job of addressing these incidents in the NFL. And we will," Goodell said.
"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."
A more severe penalty would be imposed for such violations as incidents that took place before joining the NFL, violence involving a weapon, repeated hits, actions against a pregnant woman or with a child present.
The two-game ban against Rice for striking Janay Palmer in an elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was less than NFL players receive for substance abuse, performance-enhancing drug use or drink driving.
"This very serious and significant step matches the severity and prevalence of domestic violence in our society and could make the NFL part of the solution, rather than the problem," US Senator Richard Blumenthal said.
"I applaud commissioner Goodell for taking positive steps to address the festering issue of domestic violence in the NFL, but now the real work begins. The commissioner and the league must match words with actions."
The NFL Players Association warned that it could test the limits of the new punishments should a player wish to challenge the league.
"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 said in a statement.