American football chiefs vowed to end the “culture of silence” surrounding domestic abuse allegations after a series of scandals which have tarnished the sport.
Speaking before a US Senate hearing into domestic violence in professional sport, NFL executive Troy Vincent acknowledged missteps over the handling of the recent case of running back Ray Rice.
Former Baltimore Ravens star Rice was initially given a two-match suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after punching his future wife unconscious in a hotel elevator.
The punishment was widely decried as too lenient when it was issued.
The 27-year-old was later given an indefinite suspension — subsequently overturned — after video of the incident emerged.
Vincent told Tuesday’s hearing the NFL had botched its handling of the case.
“We have to break the culture of silence,” said Vincent, vice-president of operations for the NFL, acknowledging that the league had “failed” in the case of Rice.
“The commissioner failed to impose the proper discipline in the Ray Rice case in the very beginning,” Vincent told the hearing.
American football and the three other major professional US sports — baseball, basketball and ice hockey — all faced questioning before Tuesday’s hearing.
While the NFL has carried the brunt of recent domestic violence controversies, Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said the failure to tackle the issue properly was not unique to gridiron.
“Professional sports, with very few exceptions, have done little to hold those who commit this crime accountable,” McCaskill said.
Vincent meanwhile said the NFL was planning an overhaul of its policies for dealing with future cases.
“Our goal is nothing less than a set of clear rules to govern accountability for misconduct and to establish fair process for player and employee discipline,” he said.
“We believe that wearing a uniform of an NFL player is a privilege. It is not a right. Every member of the NFL community must embrace this unique leadership role that we play in our society and the trust that you place in us,” he added.