A group of 16 women senators penned a strongly worded letter to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday demanding that the league permanently dismiss any player who commits an act of domestic violence.
The senators said they were "shocked and disgusted" that the NFL only suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games after learning that he had knocked his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator. The league suspended Rice indefinitely on Monday, but only after graphic video footage of the abuse leaked to the public.
"We were shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago," the senators wrote. "Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year. We are deeply concerned that the NFL's new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act and return after a short suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn't get a second chance to play football in the NFL."
The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kay Hagan (D-NC.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
The NFL toughened its standard penalty for domestic abusers from a two-game to a six-game suspension in August, after Rice was first suspended but before the full video was made public. The league implemented the new policy in response to public outcry over the fact that it was punishing players more harshly for positive drug tests than for domestic violence.
Goodell is now under fire for allegedly lying about the fact that NFL executives had, in fact, seen the Rice tape months ago. In response to recent news reports that the NFL saw the video as early as April, the league said Wednesday that former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III would lead an investigation into its handling of the case.
But women's rights advocates say the probe does not go far enough to address the problem. Along with the senators' call for a zero-tolerance policy for domestic abusers in the NFL, the National Organization for Women is circulating a petition calling for Goodell to resign immediately.
"The NFL does not just have a Ray Rice problem, they have a violence against women problem," said Terry O'Neill, president of NOW. "NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community -- not just regarding the Ray Rice incident -- and to recommend real and lasting reforms."
Read the full letter from the senators below:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, we call on the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence that will ensure that this type of violence and abuse has no place in the NFL.
We were shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago. Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year.
We are deeply concerned that the NFL's new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act against a woman and return after a short suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn't get a second chance to play football in the NFL.
The NFL's current policy sends a terrible message to players, fans and all Americans that even after committing a horrific act of violence, you can quickly be back on the field.
It is long past time for the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy and send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America. We hope the NFL will seize this opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to the safety of women and families.