Robert Kraft is in trouble, but not just with law enforcement and the National Football League. The owner of the New England Patriots has a lot explaining to do to his family, the Patriots organization and fans of the Super Bowl champions.
To understand the significance of Kraft being charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia day spa Jupiter, Fla., you first need to understand where he stands in the community of life.
He is perhaps the league’s most influential owner, thanks to the success of his franchise since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick first hooked horns in 2001. And because of this, he has been treated reverentially by everyone associated with the league for the last two decades – Mr. Kraft this, Mr. Kraft that, yes sir and no sir.
This kind of behavior certainly was never expected from someone of his iconic stature, professionally and personally. And the way a family spokesman first sacked the charges seemed unnecessarily dismissive.
“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” said a Patriots spokesman. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Imagine how embarrassing this must be for the Kraft family, the Patriots and the NFL. Imagine a patriarchal figure, worth $6.6 billion, stopping at a strip mall massage parlor, on the morning of the AFC Championship Game, peeling off $100 bills for sexual services from a woman victimized by a sex trafficking ring.
Kraft has lost his credibility and will forever be eligible for public shame and judgment for this ongoing scandal. Kraft’s influence within the NFL is now compromised, as is the premise the Patriots organization somehow represents the definition of class. And he did this all to himself.
Kraft has owned the Patriots since 1994 and since that time his organization has had to defend itself against surreptitious activities such as Spygate and Deflategate.
Those who hate the Pats believe the organization considers itself above the rule of law, willing to do whatever is necessary to win. They have also had their share of players suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, including this year’s Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman.
Making it worse is the cozy relationship Kraft has enjoyed with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The depth of that friendship led many to believe Goodell might not be able or willing to adjudicate cases involving the Pats, including the Deflategate scandal that led to Brady’s four-game suspension before the start of the 2016 season.
So now what? What will Goodell do when the facts are laid out in Kraft’s case, when the league finally sees the videotape supposedly confirming law enforcement’s contention Kraft did what it said he did?
Will Kraft be held to the same standard Colts owner Jim Irsay was in 2014 when he was charged with driving under the influence and drug possession and received a six-game suspension and $500,000 fine. Will Kraft be punished in a manner similar to Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, forced to sell the team over racial insensitivity and sexual harassment allegations.
Kraft is 77 years old. Since his wife Myra died in 2011, he has been seeing a woman half his age, Ricki Noel Lander, 39, who was on the field with him before the Super Bowl in Atlanta in February. You ask yourself, why was this necessary for a man of his means.
Kraft has a lot of work ahead of him, regardless of any punishment by the league. He is considered a Hall of Fame candidate after presiding over six Super Bowl champions. Now he has to express contrition and prove to the NFL he is capable and deserving of being an owner. Worse yet, he is now another example of how poorly some in the NFL have treated women.
Of course, Kraft is not the only one caught up in this scandal. There are dozens of men, ranging in age from 29 to 84, being investigated for paying for sex at South Florida massage parlors over the last six months.
The NFL also issued a statement on Monday: “The NFL is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
Kraft has a residence in Palm Beach at The Breakers, a wealthy oceanside community about 20 miles from Orchids of Asia.
On Jan. 19, Kraft stayed at the spa from 4:45 p.m. until 5:25 p.m., and paid more than $200 for two women’s services.
On Jan. 20, the day of the AFC Championship Game, Kraft was inside from 10:59 a.m. until 11:13 a.m. and paid more than $100 for one woman’s time. Documents say he arrived in a chauffeured 2015 blue Bentley.
A court date has been set for April 24. Kraft will have a minor arrest warrant issued and will not need to appear in court. Kraft has hired the firm of Atterbury, Goldberger & Weiss to represent him. If convicted, Kraft could face one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and attendance in a human trafficking dangers class.
That likely will have no connection to what the NFL chooses to do with him. Goodell will need to put his friendship with Kraft aside and decide, likely in collaboration with other owners, what type of punishment befits the offense.
The NFL also said Monday its personal conduct policy “applies equally to everyone in the NFL” and it will handle “this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the policy.
“(We are) seeking a full understanding of the facts, while ensuring that we do not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation.”