NFL owners unanimously approved changes to the league personal conduct policy Wednesday, but Commissioner Roger Goodell will retain authority to rule on appeals.
A special counsel for investigations and conduct will oversee initial discipline, Goodell said.
"This will be a highly qualified individual with a criminal justice background hired as soon as possible for the newly created position," Goodell said. "The person will oversee our investigations and decide the discipline for violations of the policy."
The commissioner also may appoint a panel of independent experts to participate in appeals.
After the Ray Rice and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson cases, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct will be included in the policy, as well as specific criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime.
A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect, but with consideration given to mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
"The policy is comprehensive. It is strong. It is tough. And it better for everyone associated with the NFL," Goodell said.
The players' union has sought negotiations with the NFL on any revamping of the policy, and said Tuesday it would "reserve the right to take any and all actions" should the owners act unilaterally. The union could consider Wednesday's vote by the owners as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement reached in 2011.
"We expected today's vote by the NFL owners from before Thanksgiving," NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah said on Twitter. "Our union has not seen their new policy."
That new policy will include a conduct committee made up of several team owners that will review the policy at least annually and recommend appropriate changes. That committee will seek advice from outside experts, the NFL said.
Members of the committee will be Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill as the chairman; Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank; Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt; Dee Haslam, the wife of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam; Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Charlotte Jones Anderson, chairwoman of the NFL Foundation; Chicago Bears owner George McCaskey; Houston Texans owner Robert McNair; and two former NFL players who have a stake in NFL team ownership, Warrick Dunn of the Falcons and John Stallworth of the Steelers.
Last month, an arbitrator threw out Rice's indefinite suspension by the NFL for hitting his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator, freeing him to play again.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones said Goodell's decision in September to change Rice's original suspension from two games to indefinite was "arbitrary" and an "abuse of discretion."
After noting the two-game suspension given to Rice was insufficient, Goodell had changed the minimum punishment under the personal conduct policy to six games. After a video of the punch became public, Rice was released by the Ravens and Goodell suspended him indefinitely.
Rice and the union contended he was essentially sentenced twice, and Jones agreed, saying Rice "did not lie to or mislead the NFL."
Peterson's appeal of a league suspension after he allegedly abused his son lasting until next April 15 was heard by Harold Henderson last week. Henderson, a former NFL executive, was appointed by Goodell to rule on the appeal and is expected to do so soon.
Peterson is seeking reinstatement, something Goodell said he would not consider before April 15.
The 2012 NFL MVP hasn't played for the Minnesota Vikings since Week 1 after he was charged with child abuse in Texas. He was placed on paid leave while the legal process played out, and he pleaded no contest Nov. 4 to misdemeanor reckless assault for injuring his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch.
Advocates at Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, see beyond the headlines when a child is abused, but Wednesday they said the headline is a step in the right direction.
"It's a step in the right direction that they're increasing the penalties, that they're making it without pay and that the NFL is standing up and saying family violence is not OK," CASA Executive Director Martha Gershun said.
Gershun advocates for abused children. She said, though the NFL has made a positive change, there are some foreseeable loopholes.
"This policy leaves a few things up to interpretation. It lets appeals go straight to the commissioners - straight to Roger Goodell," she said.
And the NFL's language to consider "mitigating or aggravating circumstances" for child, spousal, or sexual abuse leaves some wiggle room in the game played off the field.
"In our world we would say there is never ever, ever a mitigating reason to hurt a child. There is never a mitigating reason to hurt a woman, a spouse or a domestic partner. We would say there are no mitigating circumstances," Gershun said.
Gershun added it is a shame it took so long and such horrible crimes to happen before the organization took steps to punishing this kind of behavior amongst its players.
The NFL commissioner discussed the changes in a letter to fans.
AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.
“You give so much to our game and its success. In return, as you should, you hold us to high standards, both on and off the field. We have listened and we have heard you. We hold ourselves to these high standards as well.
The majority of people in the NFL are individuals of high character who make incredible contributions to the game and their communities. However, a small percentage conduct themselves improperly at times. We recognize these actions damage the entire league. We now are taking significant steps to strengthen our programs to prevent and address incidents of misconduct.
Today at a league meeting in Dallas, our teams unanimously endorsed a revised and strengthened Personal Conduct Policy for all NFL employees. The policy was developed after an extensive series of meetings and discussions over the past four months with a wide range of experts and others inside and outside of the NFL, including current and former players, the NFL Players Association, domestic violence/sexual assault experts and advocates, law enforcement officials, academic experts, and business leaders. The revised policy is clear, consistent, accountable and transparent and applies to everyone including owners, general managers, coaches, players, other team employees, game officials, and all league employees.
We wanted to share this revised policy directly with you as soon as possible. You can access it here:
Our communities are the heart of our teams and we put everything into making a positive impact on them. While we are stewards of the game of football, we know that virtue isn't earned on the field alone. Character and values sits above everything else because we represent something that means so much to so many people.
Thank you for your passion and support of the NFL, and for helping make us better. Enjoy the rest of the season, which promises to be an exciting race to Super Bowl XLIX.”
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