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Goodell announced enhanced policies and discipline under the personal conduct policy that will result in a six-game suspension for a first offense related to domestic violence or sexual assault and a lifetime ban for a second offense committed by any NFL employee. / Melina Vastola, USA TODAY Sports

Bravo, NFL.

It's about time.

As clueless and hostile to women as its absurdly lenient punishment of Ray Rice was, the NFL has taken a strong stand with its harsh new penalties for domestic violence. In no uncertain terms, the league is telling its players, coaches, staff and anyone who pays attention to the game that domestic violence and sexual assault are never, ever acceptable.

Do it, and you're gone for a minimum of six games. Do it again, and your career is all but over.

Harsh? Yes.

Appropriate? Absolutely.

"These steps are based on a clear, simple principle: domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote Thursday in a letter to owners that was obtained by USA TODAY Sports. "They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances."

Every year, 1.3 million women are victims of domestic abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Almost a third of women who are murdered are killed by what the NCADV calls "an intimate partner."

It's not just women who suffer the consequences, either. According to the NCADV, boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to become abusers as adults.

It's a serious and troubling societal problem, which is what made the NFL's "punishment" of Rice so appalling. Despite hitting his then-fiancee at a New Jersey casino and being caught on surveillance video dragging her - while she was unconscious - out of an elevator, Rice was suspended for just two games.

Two games. In a 16-game season. When guys busted for smoking pot are suspended for four games.

Goodell tried to put a good spin on it, saying Rice had cooperated and it was his first offense. But all women heard was that they didn't matter. That so long as the NFL could paint pink ribbons on the turf and make a show of caring about breast cancer awareness - selling millions of dollars' worth of pink merchandise in the process, of course - women could be used as punching bags the other 11 months of the year.

"I didn't get it right," Goodell acknowledged. "Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."

Now the NHL and Major League Baseball, neither of which have specific penalties for domestic abuse or sexual assault, have to get on board.

The NBA has a minimum 10-game suspension for anyone convicted of a "violent felony," and the commissioner has used his broad powers to punish players charged or convicted of lesser offenses when they've involved domestic abuse.

With apologies to the NBA, however, nothing commands the public attention like the NFL.

"There is a large segment of society that looks to the NFL for various reasons, and for setting the standards for behavior," said Ruth Glenn, executive director of the NCADV. "Particularly for youngsters who are aspiring to the (NFL). When news comes out that a player has committed domestic violence and the sanctions are minimal, at best, that sends the wrong message."

As eye-catching as the new NFL penalties are, it's what else the league is promising to do that could have an even greater impact:

- Education on domestic violence and sexual assault will be improved, and not only will it be mandatory for all NFL personnel, it will be part of league programs for college, high school and youth players.

- The NFL's LifeLine and Total Wellness Programs will have staff members trained to provide "prompt and confidential assistance to anyone at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault - whether as a victim or potential aggressor."

- Teams will meet with players' spouses and significant others to ensure they are aware of the resources available to them.

- Prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault will be part of its community outreach programs.

"I would say that this is a better first step to addressing these issues," Glenn said.

It shouldn't have taken a public outcry to make the NFL realize that domestic violence is a serious crime. Now that it does, hopefully others will, too.

Follow Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Armour: NFL recognizes its cluelessness with new domestic violence penalties

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