Carolina Panthers

Domestic violence convictions to bring 6-game bans, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell informs owners

After national backlash for his mishandling of a domestic violence case regarding a star running back, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL owners in a letter Thursday there will be stronger penalties against players and NFL personnel convicted of domestic violence-related charges.

Players violating the league’s personal conduct policy on assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will be suspended without pay for six games for a first offense and face an indefinite ban for a second offense.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy faces his own potential punishment following a July conviction for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and he appealed for a jury trial set for November. Though the letter doesn’t state clearly what the league will do with pending cases, Goodell indicates any possible punishment would come after the legal process is complete.

Asked specifically about Hardy’s case, an NFL spokesman said in an email to the Observer that “each case will be addressed individually on its merits.”

“We will address these issues fairly and thoughtfully, respecting the rights of all involved and giving proper deference to law enforcement and the courts,” Goodell wrote in his letter to owners.

In the letter, Goodell admitted shortcomings in his handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case. Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, was seen on video, via TMZ, dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of a hotel elevator. For that, Rice received a two-game suspension that was lambasted nationally by fans, media and even members of Congress.

“At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals,” Goodell wrote. “We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place.

“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.”

Hardy was charged in May with assaulting and threatening to kill ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder during an early-morning altercation at Hardy’s uptown condo.

In July a district judge found Hardy guilty. He immediately appealed for a jury trial, which is scheduled for Nov. 17. Under North Carolina law, any defendant convicted of misdemeanor charges is granted a jury trial upon appeal.

The trial would fall a day after the Panthers’ home game against Atlanta and during their bye week, although Hardy’s attorney believes the trial will be pushed back to 2015.

The Panthers indicated in July they would wait for Goodell to handle any punishment.

Hardy said this week he has not heard from Goodell about his situation.

“As we do in all disciplinary matters, if we believe that players’ due process rights are infringed upon during the course of discipline, we will assert and defend our members’ rights,” read a statement from the NFL Players Association.

Hardy was scheduled to make the trip to Pittsburgh for Thursday’s exhibition against the Steelers, although a bruised shoulder might prevent him from playing.

Hardy, the Panthers’ sixth-round pick in 2010, is coming off his best season and signed a franchise tag tender in March that guarantees him $13.1 million this year. A six-game suspension under his contract would cost Hardy $4.91 million of his current pay.

Two months after Hardy signing his franchise tender, Hardy was arrested following an altercation with Holder, who told authorities Hardy was upset about her brief relationship with the rapper Nelly.

District Judge Becky Thorne Tin, in announcing her verdict last month, said the evidence convinced her Hardy beat Holder, threw her around his condo, then attempted to cover up his actions with a fabricated 911 call.

Holder told the judge she sustained bruises to her back when Hardy threw her on to a futon covered with several guns. Hardy turned over 10 guns, including at least six military-type, semi-automatic rifles, as part of a court order following his arrest.

During his testimony, Hardy said Holder swung at him, threatened to kill herself, and was injured when she threw herself into the bathtub.

Following the bench trial, Holder’s attorney left open the possibility of a civil suit.