U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined a bipartisan group of 16 female senators who sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday, urging him to institute a “real zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.”

Goodell has come under fire for his handling of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was arrested in February for assaulting his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

“Tragically, domestic violence is the number one cause of murder in our state,” Collins said in a statement regarding the letter. “The NFL must send a stronger message to our nation that domestic violence will not be tolerated among its players.”

Goodell, whose office is responsible for disciplining players for a variety of reasons, originally suspended Rice for two games, then later admitted he “didn’t get it right.”

Since the suspension, video footage has been released that shows Rice punching Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.

Shortly after the release of that video, the Ravens cut ties with Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely, but pressure has been mounting on Goodell to do more. Some women’s groups have called for his resignation.

“We were shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago,” the 16 senators wrote. “Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year.”

The senators said the NFL’s new domestic violence policy, which was rolled out in late August in response to the Rice incident, is insufficient. Under the new policy, if a player is convicted of a violent crime, he is subject to a six-game suspension, which means the player potentially could return during the same season.

“We are deeply concerned that the NFL’s new policy would allow a player to commit a violent act and return after a short suspension,” the women wrote. “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.”

Collins did give the NFL credit for hiring an independent investigator Thursday to probe its handling of the Rice case.

“I support the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the actions of the league in responding to this case,” she said in her statement. “We must work together to stop the unnecessary abuse and acts of violence that devastate too many families and end too many lives.”

Rice has not said much publicly since he was cut and suspended, but sent a text message to CNN’s Rachel Nichols saying he is “just holding strong for my wife and kid.”

His wife has criticized the media for making her “relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day,” according to a message posted on her Instagram page.

Two other NFL players recently have been charged with domestic violence assaults. Greg Hardy, a defensive end with the Carolina Panthers, has been convicted of two counts of domestic assault but is appealing. An incident involving Ray McDonald, a defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, is being investigated. Both are still playing.

Goodell owns a home on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, but is not registered to vote there, according to town officials.

The other senators who signed the letter were: Barbara Boxer, D-California; Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan; Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Patty Murray, D-Washington; Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland; Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota; Dianne Feinstein, D-California; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina; and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.

It was not clear why the Senate’s remaining four women – Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana; Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska; and Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri – did not sign the letter.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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