NFL players will be subject to a six-week suspension for a first domestic violence offense and banishment from the league for a second under a new policy outlined by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping changes to the NFL personal-conduct policy Thursday, writing in a letter to NFL owners obtained by The Baltimore Sun that discipline for domestic violence incidents will increase significantly.

The NFL will suspend first-time offenders for six games. A second violation would result in a lifetime ban, though players could file for reinstatement after one year.

"Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to enhanced discipline," Goodell wrote in the letter. "A first offense will be subject to a suspension of six weeks without pay. Mitigating circumstances will be considered, and more severe discipline will be imposed if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. 

"A second offense will result in banishment from the league; an offender may petition for reinstatement after one year but there is no assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary consequences apply to all NFL personnel."

Goodell has been heavily criticized for suspending Ravens running back Ray Rice for just two games following his felony aggravated assault case involving a physical altercation with his then-fiancee, whom he later married.

Goodell based his decision on Rice's status as a first-time offender who had an exemplary record prior to this incident.

In the letter, however, Goodell acknowledged he didn't handle the Rice case correctly.

"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," Goodell wrote. "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. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.

"The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard, and properly so.  Much of the criticism stemmed from a fundamental recognition that the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we can project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football.  We embrace this role and the responsibility that comes with it.

"We will listen openly, engage our critics constructively, and seek continuous improvement in everything we do.  We will use this opportunity to create a positive outcome by promoting policies of respect for women both within and outside of the workplace.  We will work with nationally recognized experts to ensure that the NFL has a model policy on domestic violence and sexual assault.  We will invest time and resources in training, programs and services that will become part of our culture.  And we will increase the sanctions imposed on NFL personnel who violate our policies."

The NFL Players Association issued a statement after news of Goodell's announcement broke.

"We were informed today of the NFL's decision to increase penalties on domestic violence offenders under the Personal Conduct Policy for all NFL employees," the statement saidi. "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 asser and defend our members' rights."

Here is Goodell's letter:

"Since becoming Commissioner, my focus has been on ensuring that the NFL is held in the highest regard by our fans, players, business partners, and public authorities.  My commitment has always been to do what is right and to protect the integrity of the game, both now and long into the future."

"Recently, we have addressed issues of respect – respect for co-workers, opponents, fans, game officials, and others.  Whether in the context of workplace conduct, advancing policies of diversity and inclusion, or promoting professionalism in all we do, our mission has been to create and sustain model workplaces filled with people of character.  Although the NFL is celebrated for what happens on the field, we must be equally vigilant in what we do off the field. At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals."

"In the past few weeks, I have reviewed all aspects of our Personal Conduct Policy and met with a wide range of experts (several of whom we have been working with for some time), as well as with the NFLPA and many of you. Those discussions will continue.  They have helped us to identify a number of steps that will better communicate our position and strengthen our policies on domestic violence and sexual assault.

"These steps are based on a clear, simple principle:  domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong.  They are illegal.  They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances.  That has been and remains our policy.

"Many of you have done excellent work in this field, both personally and through the efforts of concerned players and your community relations and player engagement departments.  Our goals are to prevent violence, impose appropriate discipline, provide professional support resources when appropriate, and publicly embrace a leadership role on this issue."

"Consistent with that view, I have directed the following actions to reinforce and enhance our policies:

"First, we will continue our work with leading experts to expand the scope of our education on domestic violence and sexual assault for all NFL personnel – players and non-players.  This will include enhanced training for entering players through the Rookie Symposium and Rookie Success Program, as well as new programs designed for veteran players and other NFL personnel. All NFL personnel – players and non-players – will receive information about available league resources and local support and advocacy groups in their community.