If Robert Kraft is found guilty, the NFL must sanction him

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

The charges brought against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in an expansive sex-sting operation in Jupiter, Florida, is, of course, humiliating for Kraft and the Patriots. Kraft, a 77-year-old widower, will have to deal with all of the ramifications, legal or otherwise.

At this time, he completely denied the charges from local police that he twice visited a local massage parlor, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where women who had been subject to human trafficking from China were forced to engage in “sexual servitude,” according to the arrest record per the Palm Beach Post.

A sweeping sting included investigations at nine other Florida businesses, and authorities say as many as 100 men, many caught on surveillance video, will be charged.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft faces charges of soliciting prostitution. (Reuters)
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft faces charges of soliciting prostitution. (Reuters)

“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” a Kraft spokesperson said in a statement. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”

Kraft is afforded the presumption of innocence in a court of law, although the court of public opinion is unlikely to be so generous. A clearer picture of what’s true will presumably play out, although it’s worth noting that a local district attorney probably isn’t just charging a prominent billionaire without having his facts straight.

In the interim, the question falls to the National Football League, which under commissioner Roger Goodell has sought to enforce behavioral standards among players and even owners under the so called “Personal Conduct Policy.”

Goodell has proudly played sheriff during his tenure and enforced standards in the interest of “protecting the shield,” or the NFL’s brand.

Well, if misbehaving players are a concern, then what does a famed owner caught up in this mess mean for the league’s reputation?

And what does the NFL do about it?

There is clear precedent for action.

In 2014, Goodell handed down a six-game suspension and $500,000 fine to Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay following an arrest on drug charges after a traffic stop. Irsay, an admitted alcoholic who had battled substance abuse issues, was cited for possession of controlled substances and had blood tests that revealed the presence of “oxycodone and/or hydrocodone.”

Irsay was banned from the Colts facility, games, practices or league functions. He was even prohibited from tweeting about the league.

“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” Goodell said in a statement at the time. “We discussed this during our meeting and you [meaning Irsay] expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”

Well, presumably Kraft was well aware of those standards and the concept that ownership should set the best example or risk punishment.

If anything, this is easy for the NFL to act upon. Irsay’s behavior stemmed from substance abuse problems, which are considered a health issue. Getting driven to a local massage parlor, as law enforcement alleges, is not.

If the charges against Kraft are accurate, there is almost no way the league can’t sanction him. Any suspension could be particularly embarrassing because it could potentially keep the owner from the season-opener in which the Patriots would unfurl a sixth Super Bowl banner at Gillette Stadium.

There generally aren’t many ways to hurt a billionaire, but this is one of them.

Making this even more intriguing is the fact Kraft and Goodell have had a contentious relationship through the years. While they’ve worked together and at times been cordial, Goodell’s office has also overseen multiple investigations into the Patriots – spy-gate and deflate-gate. Those resulted in punishments that included the stripping of draft picks, monetary fines and specific sanctions on two of Kraft’s most beloved employees, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Kraft has often lashed out at Goodell.

Now the commissioner could get a clean chance to hit the Patriots and its owner again. If proven guilty, Robert Kraft will have given his rival the ammo to take him out.

It may not be the biggest issue Kraft is facing right now, but it’s an unpleasant one nonetheless.

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