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NFL, under public pressure, toughens domestic violence bans

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The National Football League, stung by a public uproar from critics who said it was too lenient on a player accused of assaulting his fiancée, on Thursday announced stricter domestic violence penalties.

Players will now receive a six-game ban for a first-time violation of the league's policy and an indefinite ban for a second violation, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to team owners obtained by Reuters.

Goodell did not mention Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice by name, but apologized for how the league handled his suspension. Women's and family groups blasted the NFL after it suspended Rice for only two games in July for allegedly assaulting his then-fiancee and now wife.

"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," Goodell said in the letter.

The uproar over the Rice suspension damaged the league's reputation at a time that the NFL has been trying to boost its popularity among women. Critics noted that nonviolent offenses such as positive tests for alcohol and recreational drugs like marijuana, can result in suspensions ranging from four games to a calendar year.

"I didn't get it right," Goodell said.

Goodell added he can shorten or lengthen suspensions depending on circumstances. Penalties will be more severe for those who had a prior incident before entering the league or for using a weapon, choking, repeated striking, violence against a pregnant woman or in presence of a child, Goodell said.

A player can apply for reinstatement after a year ban.

Rice's case was amplified by his star status and a video published by TMZ.com that appeared to show him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino.

The running back settled an assault charge and paid a fine to avoid jail time.

The new policies will go into effect for all NFL employees.

Goodell has frequently been a target of criticism from players for how he is able to determine punishment unilaterally and in most cases rules on appeals.

"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," the NFL Players Association said in a statement in response to the new domestic violence policy.

The NFL has been in years-long negotiations with the union over easing certain recreational drug policies and punishment.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and David Gregorio)

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