Two members of Congress have asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to clarify whether teams can lose draft picks if they do not properly address domestic violence.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Goodell, Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, and Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, wrote: "We urge you to create accountability at all levels of the NFL, particularly among team owners, who have the most direct financial incentives to avoid long-term suspensions and quickly get players back on the field."
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The letter noted that the league has docked clubs draft picks in the past, such as when the Saints were investigated for a bounty system and when the Patriots were caught videotaping an opponent’s sideline signals.
"We support this potential disciplinary action as a significant indication that the NFL takes these issues very seriously and intends to hold teams responsible for allowing cultures of violence and abuse," Schatz and Speier wrote.
Asked by The Associated Press to comment, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said: "We look forward to responding to the letter." McCarthy also pointed out that clubs can be docked money for repeated violations by players of the league’s personal conduct policy.
Domestic violence became a major topic of discussion during last season for the NFL because of a series of cases involving players, notably former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
He punched his then-fiancee — now wife — in a casino elevator and originally was suspended for two games by Goodell, a punishment widely criticized as too lenient. When video of what Rice did emerged, Goodell changed it to an indefinite suspension. Eventually, though, that second punishment was erased by an arbitrator when Rice appealed.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in December about domestic violence in pro sports, lawmakers — including Schatz — pressed representatives of the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball and their players’ unions on matters such as whether they conduct their own investigations into episodes of domestic violence, independent of police; whether coaches or other team personnel are required to report instances of illegal conduct to law enforcement; and what sort of help is provided for abuse victims.
None of the four leagues’ commissioners was present at that hearing.
Schatz and Speier wrote Goodell last year about the issue. They told Goodell on Tuesday that in a letter he wrote last month he did not mention the possibility of taking away draft picks "as a penalty for teams that do not address domestic violence and sexual assaults properly."
They continue: "Please provide further clarification on whether the removal of draft picks will be used as a penalty for teams that do not appropriately address domestic violence and sexual assault."