Sixteen female U.S. senators have sent a letter to commissioner Roger Goodell calling for a "real zero-tolerance policy" against domestic violence in the NFL.
The letter was sent to Goodell on Thursday. In it, the senators say they were "shocked and disgusted" by the video released Monday of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino elevator and a subsequent report by The Associated Press that a league executive received the video from a law enforcement official in April.
"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," the letter reads. "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."
The letter ends with a call 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."
The letter was put together by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and was signed by 14 Democrats and two Republicans.
President Barack Obama's press secretary released a statement earlier in the week, calling the issue of domestic violence "bigger than football."
"The president is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society," the statement said. "Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that's true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that's bigger than football -- and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it."
Ray Anderson, formerly the vice president of football operations under Goodell, expressed his displeasure with the turn of events inside league headquarters.
"I am personally very disappointed that the leadership at the NFL's New York office seems to be swirling around in chaos," Anderson told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "That's sad, because there are too many good people working there that don't deserve that and I'll just leave it at that."
Anderson later added, "In my time in the league, I thought there was an appropriate moral compass. I struggle now because I'm not sure I have as much faith that is occurring."
The NFL has denied receiving the Rice video and announced late Wednesday night that former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will conduct an inquiry into how the league handled evidence as it investigated the claims against Rice. The investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, issued a statement late Wednesday, calling Mueller's appointment "just window dressing."
Rice, 27, was charged with felony aggravated assault in his case, but in May he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge being purged from his record.
After Goodell drew criticism for not being tough enough on Rice, he wrote in a letter to all 32 team owners in August, "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. 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," he added. "Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."
First-time offenders now face a six-game suspension.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted on two counts of domestic violence and is appealing the verdict, remains active, as does Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, who is being investigated for abuse allegations.
The Panthers and 49ers have not publicly discussed details of their investigations, saying only that they are following the NFL's lead in waiting for the legal process to run its course.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.