National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell took a long-overdue step last week by increasing league-imposed penalties for players and other league personnel accused of domestic violence.

The move came after widespread public criticism over Goodell's decision to suspend Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games after his arrest for allegedly beating his girlfriend in a hotel elevator.

"My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families," Goodell said. "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."

Under the new policy, a first-time domestic violence offense will bring at least a six-game suspension; a subsequent offense carries the risk of a lifetime ban.

The NFL is hardly alone in coming up short historically in its response to domestic violence.

For far too long, numerous institutions have not treated domestic violence as the serious issue it is. That has begun to change in recent years, and the NFL's new policy is the latest evidence that most people realize that assault is not somehow less serious when it occurs in intimate relationships.

"Domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes," said Stephanie Karr, executive director of El Paso's Center Against Family Violence. "It matters not who commits them. For far too long, football players and other athletes have had a 'pass' from the National Football League, owners and coaches when they have committed these egregious acts of violence."

The new NFL policy already is getting its first test. Within days of Goodell's announcement, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony domestic violence charges.

"The NFL must stand by its word and impose the stiffest penalty it can. Only through clear and tough action, will the message sink in — domestic violence and sexual assault should not be tolerated anywhere," Karr said.

The NFL came to its new policy too slowly, but it has made an important statement about domestic violence. Karr said other institutions and employers should follow the NFL's lead in showing no tolerance for domestic crimes.

"Each El Paso coach, sports leader and team member must adopt this same stance. School districts and colleges can adopt the same policies," Karr said. "Businesses and workplaces can step forward and institute similar workplace policies. Community action does make a difference. We can choose to stop domestic violence and sexual assault."


El Paso Times Editorial Board

Disclosure: Robert Moore, El Paso Times editor and member of the editorial board, is a board member for the Center Against Family Violence.