75 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's admission that he botched the Ray Rice case and his plan to strengthen penalties for domestic violence incidents were lauded Thursday by advocacy groups and many fans.

The NFL Players Association's relatively terse response said a lot about the skepticism that arises from any "enhancements" to a personal conduct policy Goodell can enforce unilaterally.

"As we do in all disciplinary matters," the union statement read, "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 NFLPA wasn't minimizing the gravity of domestic violence and/or sexual assault, which now will be punishable with a six-game ban for a first offense and an indefinite ban of at least a year for a second, according to a letter Goodell sent to owners Thursday.

But it remains to be seen how Goodell will enforce the revised policy, born from derision over his lenient treatment of Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back suspended two games for punching his then-fiancée and getting caught on video dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.

"My initial reaction is, 'Really?' " former NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said. "I can't believe (Goodell) admitted he got something wrong."

There was no such admission in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, even after former commissioner Paul Tagliabue — appointed by Goodell to handle the appeals — vacated his successor's punishment of four current and former players in Dec. 2012.

The way Goodell used his power in that case has bothered union leadership for years, fostering the distrust evident as the sides continue to fight over the commissioner's authority in the appeals process as part of a new comprehensive drug policy.

"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 wrote.

"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."

Most notable, first offenders will be subject to harsher penalties. But the authority remains with Goodell, whose letter said issues will addressed "fairly and thoughtfully, respecting the rights of all involved and giving proper deference to law enforcement and the courts."

Though a six-game ban is the new standard for a first offense, the letter said any punishment would be doled out "with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant."

It didn't specify what those mitigating factors might be or whether a player such as Rice — who was accepted into a pretrial diversion program that upon completion will dismiss the third-degree aggravated assault charge against him — would actually get the six-game ban.

In other words, Goodell still has the power. The bar simply has been raised, and smartly so, given the widespread outcry over Rice's punishment at a time the league is trying harder than ever to court female fans.

The league couldn't very well trot out its annual NFL Breast Cancer Awareness campaign in October, with Rice among hundreds of players donning pink gloves and cleats, having done nothing to show it takes violence against women seriously.

"Domestic violence is intolerable for anybody, whether you're a football player or not," Mawae said. "I think anybody would say Ray Rice got off with a slap on the wrist by comparison to less major issues that got far heavier punishment during Goodell's tenure."

So, Goodell took the only step that made sense to protect a multibillion-dollar industry. What the new guidelines really mean for the next player to commit such a heinous act is still up to Goodell.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.

75 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1pnVrhW