Last Friday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two misdemeanor counts of solicitation of prostitution. His lawyer plead not guilty on his behalf and requested a non-jury trial.
The charges against Kraft and about 200 others relates to a large-scale crackdown on spas in the state of Florida that allegedly trafficked Chinese women for sex. Police set up a sting operation and used hidden cameras to expose the wrongdoing. Oddly, instead of focusing on intervening to help the trafficked women, police prioritized finding high-profile johns.
A spokesperson for Kraft said in a statement that they “categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity.” They also added, “because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.” The NFL announced that it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
It is unclear whether the league will punish Kraft. Everyone in the NFL, including the owners, is subject to its personal conduct policy, but punishment for illegal or immoral activity by owners has varied widely on a case-by-case basis.
Most recently, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was forced to sell the team last year after reports surfaced relating to racial and sexual harassment of employees. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, on the other hand, was not penalized for possible involvement in a massive fraud scheme at his truck stop company. Before that, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was fined $500,000 and suspended six games for drug possession and drunk driving.
Kraft’s legal jeopardy is based on the evidence of the case, which we do not fully know yet. However, the league can punish Kraft even if he is not found guilty, and its decision is largely based on internal politics and public image rather than morals or the facts.
There are several options for the NFL. Since Kraft is one of the most influential owners in the league, he may get away unpunished, depending on the details of his legal punishment. But after years of domestic abuse and sexual assault scandals, including one earlier this year by former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, the league might feel obligated to punish Kraft more harshly.
This is not yet another Patriots scandal. This is not cheating. This does not invalidate the success of the team in any way. Even so, this should be the scandal that truly damages the reputation of the team, as opposed to Spygate and Deflategate. Instead, this will likely soon be an afterthought among fans and will likely receive far less media coverage than other scandals.
Assuming the evidence against Kraft is convincing, the NFL should take some sort of strong action to show that it will not tolerate such behavior. The maximum fine of half a million dollars and either forfeiture of ownership to Kraft’s son or a lengthy suspension is a start.