Now that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at a spa which has been linked to sex trafficking in Florida, you may well wonder what kind of punishment the NFL can inflict on Kraft if the charges are true.
Per the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, which team owners are also subject to, “ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
These charges would appear to fall under that standard. In 2014, Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 by the NFL after a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated. Irsay admitted that he was under the influence of oxycodone and hydrocodone while driving.
The primary reason for a Personal Conduct Policy is to protect the brand of an organization against the kinds of black eyes that criminal behavior can bring. And in Kraft’s case, whether he was aware of the spa’s involvement in human trafficking, that aspect of the case has already been indelibly tied to whatever Kraft’s involvement may have been. One can assume that if the preponderance of the evidence proves that Kraft was involved, he and his representatives will vehemently deny that he was aware that he visited a place that was a front for such nefarious behavior.
Whether that will wash or not with the other owners is a matter of conjecture, but Kraft is one of the most beloved owners among his colleagues. In both the Spygate and Deflategate matters, Kraft apologized and appeared contrite at all times, which went a long way to his ability to avoid having those scandals associated with him as they have been with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
This, of course, is an entirely different matter. The charges have nothing to do with football or the NFL, but they put the league in a very bad light when of the NFL’s most visible owners is stuck with the baggage of something this bad.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is generally known to be highly reactive when applying punitive justice. If the person under his thumb is legitimately sorry for the things he’s done, comes to Goodell before things get out of hand, and kisses all the appropriate rings, things can usually be smoothed over. But there are no mitigating factors to human trafficking, and from a public relations perspective, the NFL just took a relative beating in settling outstanding collision grievances with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. As the owner of the defending Super Bowl champions, Kraft is as visible as any owner can be-as much the face of the league as anybody else at this point.
And that’s why, despite his goodwill inside the Boys’ Club, Kraft may see a far sterner punishment from ownership and from the Commissioner’s office. It isn’t standard to apply severe standards to team ownership under most circumstances, but this isn’t about taping opponents, messing with the air pressure of footballs, or even popping too many painkillers and driving around late at night.
From an appearance perspective, this is far worse, and that’s why the NFL might have to extend its standard of punishment beyond where it has gone before. Whether that works into a longer suspension and a deeper fine (the more likely scenario) or the league demanding that Kraft relinquish control of the team (less likely), a different paradigm would be in order here.