The news that New England Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, will be charged with solicitation of prostitution serves as an opportunity to survey one aspect of current US society. We have become far too interested in “off center” stories at the expense of rational consideration of real and current issues. Moreover, the focus on those “off center” stories is all consuming – – until the next “off center” story comes along. And so, to some extent:
- Robert Kraft is the best thing that could have happened to Jussie Smollet.
- Jussie Smollett was the best thing that could have happened to Ralph Northam
- Ralph Northam was the best thing that could have happened to the President and the Congress during the time of the government shutdown.
- The shutdown was the best thing that could have happened to Elizabeth Warren and her DNA test.
- See a pattern here …?
Before I project what might be the ultimate outcome here, let me make one simple observation:
- Something called the Bloomberg Billionaire Index says that Robert Kraft’s net worth is $4.36B. Forbes says he is worth $6.6B. Let’s just agree that Robert Kraft has loads of money, OK?
[Aside: In that circumstance, I do not understand why he would not “order in” as opposed to paying a visit to a day spa. But that’s just me…]
Lots of hot takes emanated from this breaking news with two rather extreme suggestions regarding the punishment for Robert Kraft. Once again, we need to pay attention to the fact that Robert Kraft has been charged in this matter but has not plead guilty nor has he been convicted of anything. Everyone who has proposed any sort of punishment here has already jumped the gun.
Bart Scott does sports-talk radio in NYC. I read that he proposed that the NFL strip the Patriots of an entire draft class; they would get no draft picks for one year. Given the minor nature of the charges here – they are indeed misdemeanor charges not felonies – that seems overly harsh unless of course you are a former NY Jet like Bart Scott. The reason I think this proposal is over the top is this:
- Imagine if the celebrity chef who owns and runs a famous restaurant were charged – even convicted if you want – of soliciting prostitution. Would it make sense to deny the restaurant the ability to purchase any vegetables of any kind for a year? Who is being punished there? The workers in the restaurant who did nothing – or the diners who would not be able to eat there? Makes no sense…
Various other folks have wondered if the NFL could force Robert Kraft to sell the Patriots. I will not pretend to be an expert regarding the NFL Bylaws, but I assume there is a mechanism in there to rid the league of a “bad apple” owner. However, I suspect that 31 other owners would not like to see the bar for such a “forced sale” set as low as solicitation of prostitution charges. My hunch is that there would be some sweaty palms in owners’ boxes around the league should that suggestion surface…
I can only think of one instance in the NFL where an owner was separated from his team but was not forced to sell. Eddie DeBartolo had to step down and hand over the team control to his sister back in the 90s. DeBartolo was convicted of bribery in a case involving the acquisition of some sort of casino/gambling license in Louisiana. That was a felony; he served real jail time for it. It is important to note that he was removed from the team, but no sale was required.
Jerry Richardson sold the Panthers proximal to reports of sexual and racial harassment in the workplace. Maybe the NFL encouraged him to get the deal done as quickly as possible, but they did not force the sale. Richardson had the team on the market prior to the allegations which were settled privately.
Leonard Tose owned the Eagles in the 70s and 80s. He had gambling and alcohol issues and got VERY deeply in debt to casinos in Atlantic City. He sold the team to Norman Braman to pay off those debts; I do not recall that the NFL mandated that sale.
In the NBA, Donald Sterling had to sell the Clippers – but the reason the NBA forced that sale was that Sterling’s behaviors were damaging to the league itself. His more than merely insensitive racial comments did not make for any sort of positive marketing strategy.
In MLB, Phillies’ owner William Cox was forced to sell the team in 1943 because it was determined that he was betting on baseball while he owned the team. Since that act earned him a lifetime banishment from baseball from Commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis, selling the team was a consequence of that designation. [Aside: George Steinbrenner was also banned from baseball temporarily in the 90s but did not have to sell the Yankees.]
I cannot think of any other forced sales due to improper behavior in the major US sports. Nonetheless, the NFL will have to hand down some sort of punishment here to demonstrate that the League’s personal conduct policy applies to everyone associated with the league. So, what is the precedent for sanctions on owners:
- Jim Irsay had a DUI situation. He went into rehab and cleaned his act up. He was fined $500K and suspended for 6 games.
- Steve Keim (a GM not an owner) also had a DUI situation. He was fined $200K and suspended for 5 weeks.
- Jimmy Haslam’s company – Flying J – had an ongoing rebate fraud scheme and company execs eventually plead guilty to some charges related to that. Haslam oversaw the company but was never charged in this mess. The NFL has not sanctioned him at all.
To me, there is no real punishment the NFL could logically impose here that would matter to Robert Kraft. Even if the league fined him $5M – – an order of magnitude greater than the fine on Jim Irsay for DUI which I assert is a more severe offense than solicitation of prostitution – – that fine would not do much damage to someone with a net worth in the neighborhood of $5B depending on which estimate one chooses to believe. If the NFL “suspends” him for any length of time, that only means he cannot be at the game in the owners’ box; he is not the starting inside linebacker after all. Oh, yes; he would also have to stay away from the team headquarters meaning that he would be isolated from team decisions for some period. [I actually keyed those words with a straight face…]
So, here is my bottom line on this situation. It is not particularly outrageous; so, it does not fit well with the hyperbolic protestations of righteousness that are so prevalent:
- The authorities allege that the women involved in the prostitution at the day spa were victims of human trafficking and were forced into this life of prostitution. If that is proven to be true, I would not object to putting everyone responsible for said human trafficking under the local jail.
- The NFL will impose a “significant fine”. It will be a big enough number that players will notice the amount and grudgingly admit that an owner is being punished to an extent that they would not like to be punished. I’ll toss out a figure here of $2M – – even though I know that would not be damaging in any way to Robert Kraft and his lifestyle.
- The NFL will impose a suspension too – – probably on the order of 6-8 games. This is no big deal.
- The NFL might dock the Patriots a draft choice somewhere down the line. I think that penalty would be misguided and irrelevant – – but that has never stopped the NFL in the past.
George Carlin used to say in some of his standup routines – I am going to clean up the language here – that “selling” is legal and “screwing” is legal, but “selling screwing is illegal”. How can that be? Good question, good sir…
Finally, Dwight Perry had this bottom line on this matter in the Seattle Times over the weekend:
“Marshawn Lynch should have run.
“Robert Kraft should have passed.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………