IRVING, Texas — The NFL put a new personal conduct policy for players and other employees into effect Wednesday after the unanimous ratification by the league’s 32 owners.

The policy, which takes initial disciplinary rulings in cases of misconduct away from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell but leaves him in charge of hearing and resolving any appeals of such decisions, comes after the league was heavily criticized in recent months for its handling of the high-profile legal cases of several players, including Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.

“The policy is comprehensive,” Goodell said. “It is strong. It is tough. And it is better for everyone associated with the NFL. I have stated it many times: Being part of the NFL is a privilege. It is not a right. The measures adopted today uphold that principle.”

The owners’ approval vote was taken during a one-day meeting at a Dallas-area hotel. The new policy goes into immediate effect, NFL chief counsel Jeff Pash said. The implementation of the revised policy drew sharp criticism from the NFL Players Association.

“Our union has not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL’s new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses,” a written statement issued by the players’ union said. “Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months.”

The union is expected to contest the implementation of the new policy through the arbitration process outlined in the sport’s collective bargaining agreement. A legal challenge also appears possible, according to sources on the players’ side.

The union has maintained the new policy must be collectively bargained with the players and has accused the league of failing to engage in that. NFL officials dismissed those accusations Wednesday, pointing out the two sides held a series of meetings during the formulation of the new policy.

“The union knows every element of what we’ve been talking about,” Pash said.

The league contended the change in the commissioner’s role in the disciplinary process does not need to be collectively bargained because Goodell is assigning initial disciplinary rulings to another member of the league office, as he is permitted to do under the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell said the league will hire a disciplinary officer as soon as possible to oversee investigations of misconduct and make initial disciplinary rulings.

“That’s not a change,” said Pash, who estimated that 70 percent of initial disciplinary rulings in the past have made by someone other than Goodell. Pash added: “All that we’re doing is having a different member of the commissioner’s staff make a decision.”

The league said the union had its opportunity to have input into the new policy.

“They’ve had an ample amount of time to contribute to where we’re going. … They’ve been part of the process the entire time,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. Vincent is a former player and once was the NFLPA’s president.

The personal conduct policy previously had empowered Goodell or a person appointed by him to make initial disciplinary rulings and to resolve appeals. The NFLPA has expressed a willingness to allow Goodell to continue to make initial disciplinary rulings but wants appeals heard by an independent arbitrator.

Union officials point out that when Goodell assigned former federal judge Barbara S. Jones to hear Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension by the NFL imposed in September, she vacated the indefinite suspension, reinstated Rice and wrote in her ruling that Goodell’s decision was “an abuse of discretion” and “arbitrary.”

Peterson’s appeal of his suspension is pending. Goodell assigned that appeal to be heard by Harold Henderson, a former league labor executive. The union has questioned Henderson’s impartiality.

“We gave that a lot of thought,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on the issue of an independent arbitrator for appeals. “The reason is that that’s the one person that understands what’s important [for the] long-term interests of the game.

“Owners can have specific interests. Players can,” Kraft said. “That’s short-term. But the commissioner is always looking for the long-term best interests of the game. … We thought about having [an] independent arbitrator. That’s a one-off situation where people trying to do a good job can compromise or water down what our best interests are. And so we feel very strongly about that and we’re very excited about this policy.”

The league said there is no firm timetable for hiring a new chief disciplinary officer.

The new policy keeps in place the toughened disciplinary guidelines announced by the league in August for cases of domestic violence: six games for a first offense and a lifetime ban, subject to review after one year, for a repeat offense. NFL officials stressed that the new policy applies to all league employees, not merely to players.

“Throughout my business career I’ve had a number of different companies,” Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said. “We’ve always had values and mission statements and conduct standards that were extremely important to us as to how we run our business. We’re doing the same thing here in the NFL. We’ve spent a lot of time on this. I think that the most important part of it is that this is not a policy that is directed at the players. This is a policy that covers all of us.”

The policy establishes a committee of owners to oversee disciplinary matters. The chairman of the committee is to be Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, a former federal prosecutor.

“We fully support this new policy. … The policy is just not about discipline,” Bidwill said. “It’s about education and training.”

The policy contains a mechanism for a player to be placed on paid leave after being charged with a violent crime, pending the resolution of the player’s legal case. It establishes that the NFL will conduct independent investigations when a player or another employee is accused of misconduct. League officials said they erred in the past by being overly reliant on information coming from law enforcement sources.

Goodell had vowed to have the reworked conduct policy in place by the Super Bowl and consulted with a variety of outside experts while formulating it.

How it works

In the wake of Wednesday’s vote, the NFL released the following infographic explaining how the reformed policy would function.


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