Roger Goodell announced a new personal conduct policy at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. The new policy will make several changes to how policy violations are handled. For example, accused players will immediately be placed on paid leave after they have been charged. In addition, the policy will apply to league personnel and team owners.
The NFL Players Association has raised several objections to proposed changes in the months leading up to Wednesday's announcement, and is expected to challenge the new policy. The union released a statement regarding the policy change:
Our union has not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL's new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses. Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months.
The NFL has been working on a new policy since September, when Goodell announced the policy needed improvements in the wake of the Ray Rice controversy. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Goodell sought counsel on the new policy from outside sources, including NBA commissioner Adam Silver and New York City police commissioner William Bratton.
Terms of the new policy, as announced by the NFL and laid out here:
- Hiring of a Special Counsel for Investigations and Conduct
- Leave with pay during investigation for persons charged with violent crimes
- Removing the commissioner from initial disciplinary proceedings
- The commissioner would maintain his role for appeals
- The formation of a new owners committee in charge of revising the personal conduct policy
- The NFL will no longer rely solely on police investigation in disciplinary matters, and will do its own fact finding
- Violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will result in a baseline six-game suspension for first offenses. Games can be added to the suspension for "aggravating factors" including violations against children or with the use of a weapon
- A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL. Banished players can seek reinstatement after one year
- Additional NFL-funded counseling and services for victims, families and violators
Providing oversight for the policy will be a committee comprised of NFL executives and two former players. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill will chair the committee of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, Bears owner George McCaskey, Texans owner Bob McNair, Cowboys executive vice president Charlotte Jones Anderson and Dee Haslem, the wife of Browns owner Jimmy Haslem. The two former players will be former running back Warrick Dunn (Buccaneers) and wide receiver John Stallworth (Steelers).
Still to be settled
In its announcement, the NFL left out a few details. According to the revised policy, discipline will be issued by a league office executive with a background in criminal justice, who will assume the position of Special Counsel for Investigations and Conduct. Who this disciplinary officer will be is unknown at this time. The NFL also promised a more extensive list of prohibited conduct, but has yet to reveal what those items are.
Disagreement from players
The players union advocated for punishment only in cases where players are accused or convicted of felonies, not misdemeanors, and that discipline be handed out only after the legal process has been resolved. The proposal would not punish players who win acquittals or have charges against them dropped. The union also objected to players being placed on paid leave without their consent or the consent of the NFLPA.
Personal conduct policy
Personal conduct policy
In August, the league increased the penalty for first-time domestic violence abusers from two games to six, a change to which the NFLPA took exception. The players' union has butted heads with the league on a number of issues, perhaps most notably the need for neutral arbitration on disciplinary rulings.
The Rice drama, which came to a conclusion when a judge ruled that the running back had served his suspension and was immediately eligible to return to the field, was one of several high-profile personal conduct incidents that the league has come under fire for this year. Vikings star Adrian Peterson was placed on the NFL's commissioner's permission/exempt list in September after being indicted on child abuse charges. The league suspended Peterson after he pleaded to a misdemeanor, and the running back remains inactive pending the result of his appeal.
A unilateral change to the conduct policy has been opposed by the NFLPA throughout the process. The union would like to see the changes come through the collective bargaining process, where both owners and players would have equal representation.
The NFLPA is expected to argue that the new policy represents a change to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. By removing Goodell from the initial conduct hearing, the NFLPA may argue that the league made a unilateral change to Article 46 of the CBA, according to Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal. If so, that would give the union grounds to ask for the National Labor Relations Board to step into the process.
The NFL published a flow chart detailing how the the new conduct policy process will work.