Patriots: Benjamin Watson wants to talk about social issues

Tom E. Curran
NBC Sports Boston

Patriots: Benjamin Watson wants to talk about social issues originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

 

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At this point, we can agree Florida prosecutors drastically misrepresented what they'd uncovered in when they charged Robert Kraft and a fleet of other men with soliciting prostitution back in February.

The whole investigation, the state made clear, was an effort to uncover and stamp out human trafficking.

And in the aftermath, Kraft was held up as the person who unwittingly but callously made human trafficking possible.

Through more than a week of news cycles, Kraft was portrayed as being much more than a not-so-innocent participant transactional physical pleasure.

The headline to a New York Times piece two days after the charges were announced was, "'The Monsters Are the Men': Inside a Thriving Sex Trafficking Trade in Florida."

The investigation has since unraveled to the point where people who were recorded merely getting massages in the "sneak and peek" sting effort has resulted in a class action suit.

The torrent of condemnation for the men charged in Florida – Kraft in particular – came from everywhere. Now that the investigation is listing toward being a farce, that faucet's been turned off.

But Benjamin Watson doesn't want the effort to uncover and stop human trafficking to be a casualty of the Florida investigation's missteps.

Two days after the news broke, Watson tweeted, "Be appalled but not surprised! Human trafficking is a $150B industry! Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are not simply horrific crimes that occur "OVER THERE" in a far away land, … "

On Thursday, the recently acquired tight end, who's back in his second tour with the Patriots, talked about the light shone on human trafficking by the case.

"When the issue of trafficking came up, hey, that's an issue that's global," Watson said to a clutch of reporters after a Patriots OTA practice. "There are two million children in the global sex-trafficking trade. Whether Mr. Kraft's situation had anything to do with that is irrelevant, but the fact that it was brought up is something we should all be aware of.

"Even in this country things happen and that's something that is a very real and present danger for a lot of people in this country," he explained. "Whether it's sex trafficking, whether it's the abortion issue, whether it's race, education, all sorts of things. I think it's important that we enter into those conversations, even though they may be dicey and they may bring some backlash."

Watson's views might bring more backlash if it wasn't for the fact he lives what he believes. He worked with anti-slavery organizations years before the Kraft case. He was a nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2017. and his reflections on race and player protests during the National Anthem that season were brilliant.

We live in an age when all you need is a wireless signal and a Twitter account to drop 280 characters of opinion on incredibly complex topics. You then wait for the backslaps from like-minded people while muting and blocking the ones who spit back vitriol.

Discourse seems dead.

Watson, even if one disagrees with his views, is a beacon of hope to at least get people to exchange ideas.  

"As long as I'm speaking the truth and speaking out of love, even though we may disagree, I feel like that's what we're missing most," he said Friday. "My biggest thing is if someone has a different opinion, it's not about name-calling or degrading other people. We can disagree. We can challenge each other. That is something that I believe I'll always continue to try to do, but try to do it the right way."

Watson was a first-round selection of the Patriots in 2004. He was with the team through 2009 and has since played for the Browns, Saints and Ravens. At 38, he was about to hang it up but decided to return for one more season.

The Patriots aren't in the dark when it comes to players' social media presences. There's no doubt Kraft was apprised of Watson's tweets. I don't know whether there was any resistance to Watson's signing or even any conversation about it. To me, that speaks volumes about the respect Watson's earned.

It also speaks to the organization being willing to turn an awkward situation for Kraft into a positive one. At the NFL's Annual Meeting in March, I spoke with Kraft very briefly and he expressed a hope that "some good can come out of the situation."

Perhaps having Watson on the team and empowered to speak is part of that. Because Watson does intend to keep speaking.

Asked if he believed he'd still be a "high volume" tweeter with the Patriots, Watson said, "Yeah, I do. I do. I truly believe we're not going to agree on everything when it comes to football obviously, but when it comes to issues of our day, everything's ramping up.

"We've got elections coming up," he said. "We've got Supreme Court cases, we've got all those sorts of things. We've got a lot of awareness now when it comes to different - what we would call - social issues. And so I truly believe that we all have a platform. You, me, we all have a sphere of influence and I believe that my goal is to influence people in what I believe is the right way."

Everybody isn't going to agree on one "right way" to "solve" the myriad social issues we face. They are omnipresent.

But if there is a "right way" to approach the discourse so that we're not putting up walls before conversations even begin, Watson is a role model for that.

Turns out, 2018 Pats weren't all that healthy>>>

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