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NFL Commissioner On Controversial Suspension: 'I Didn't Get It Right'


I didn't get it right - those words are in a letter sent yesterday from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the league's 32 team owners. Though Goodell never names him, it's clear that what he didn't get right was the punishment a month ago for Baltimore Ravens' running back Ray Rice. Rice was suspended for two games after allegedly knocking out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel. Goodell's letter goes on to outline new, tougher sanctions for players accused of domestic violence. And to learn more about the increased penalties and the NFL's shift on this issue, we've reached out to ESPN sports writer Jane McManus. Welcome to the program.

JANE MCMANUS: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: What was the exact plan that Goodell put forth in his letter?

MCMANUS: Well, you know, it wasn't just the suspensions and the potential lifetime ban for a second offense. But it's a whole raft of measures. And importantly, it's not just NFL players but all NFL team personnel, everyone who works for the NFL is subject to this new policy. And the other thing that's big about it is that they plan to incorporate a lot of outreach. The letter also talks about going into high schools, into colleges, into those locker rooms with those football teams and talking to boys and young men about the importance of not committing acts of aggression like domestic violence or sexual assault. So this really is a more comprehensive way of looking at this. You know, it's something that could evolve. I don't know that we've necessarily seen the final product, but it certainly is a good starting point.

SIEGEL: Is it clear what constitutes an offense? That is, is it an arrest? Is it an allegation? Is it a conviction in court? What triggers the policy? Do we know?

MCMANUS: It could be any of those things, and it's all up to the NFL's discretion. And this is the point of contention. I think there are a lot of players who feel like Roger Goodell has a lot of power as it is. But really it does -under the personal conduct policy, which is something that the league implements, this gives Goodell, it gives the league the ability to investigate these cases on its own. In the past, the NFL hasn't always relied upon a conviction in order to issue suspensions under the personal conduct policy. Look no further than Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' quarterback, who was given a six-game suspension which was reduced to four after several rape allegations. And there were no charges filed in those cases. But that didn't keep Roethlisberger from having to be suspended.

SIEGEL: Boy, this sounds like there's going to be potential for tremendous about of litigation of wives who would be under pressure to withdraw allegations or charges given that their husband's ability to make a lot of money is on the line. They'd be under tremendous pressure from lawyers, I would think.

MCMANUS: It really is. When you look at just the way that the suspensions are going to work, which would include a six-game suspension, would include a paycheck as well - six paychecks. So, you know, there are some people who have said, does this mean that people are going to be reluctant to come forward? Or does this mean that, you know, that people might be motivated to make false accusations against players as a way of getting back at them? I mean, there's a lot that they're going to have to look at. You know, almost a law enforcement arm here, which a lot of people I think are, you know, wondering whether or not the NFL should be getting into that business as an employer.

SIEGEL: And what's the reaction been like from fans or from team owners for that matter?

MCMANUS: Well, I think from fans, from what I've seen and the feedback that I've gotten - and I've written about this issue and I've been critical of the NFL's initial suspension of Rice, so I might be hearing from people - from a certain set of people. But I've heard a lot of positive response that the NFL admitted a mistake and is taking this seriously going forward. I mean, the fact of the matter is that it would be very difficult to have an October breast cancer awareness month with pink cleats on the field and pink pom-poms and have this become an outstanding issue. So I think the NFL had to get in front of it in some way. As for team owners, all team owners, all 32 teams approved this letter and these new recommendations. And I think that part of the reason Goodell changed his mind might have been because of some owners coming to him and finding what happened in the Rice case to be, just, really inadequate.

SIEGEL: Jane McManus, thanks for talking with us.

MCMANUS: Appreciate it.

SIEGEL: Jane McManus of ESPN speaking with us about the NFL's new guidelines on how to deal with players accused of domestic violence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.