For the record, I love Robert Kraft. He is an icon in the national Football League. As a business magnate, he moved from a frustrated fan of the eternally under-achieving New England Patriots to become the team’s owner and lead the team to a dramatic rebirth that has led to three Super Bowl titles and six appearances during his tenure. Beyond the New England franchise, Kraft has been acknowledged as an owner with the best interests of the game in mind. During last season’s lockout, it was Kraft who helped break the impasse, even being credited by Packers (then Colts) center Jeff Saturday as the man who saved football.
Kraft’s blueprint for the Patriots has also included a blueprint for appropriate behavior, along with harsh sanctions for stepping out of bounds of what has become known as The Patriot Way. He hired Bill Belichick to be a tough disciplinarian, and the streets around Gillette Stadium have a well-worn path indicating the departures of players who could not get with the program. Terry Glenn, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Asante Samuel, Adalius Thomas, Brandon Meriweather, and most recently Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson, all provide examples of players who did not display the work ethic or self-control that has come to be expected of Patriots’ players, or who decided to air their grievances with New England’s business model in public. Even current receiver Deion Branch found himself on the outside with his demand for more money, but Branch eventually determined that it was his chemistry with Brady in New England that was the cause of his success, and Branch was able to navigate a return back to Foxboro. Wes Welker is now running the same risk of being cast out of New England after an offseason of public grumbling on his contract status.
This offseason was also known as the “Summer of Gronk”, after star tight end Rob Gronkowski became one of the most followed celebrities from the NFL. Gronk began the offseason with his infamous dancing act following the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, and his other claims to fame have included being photographed with a porn star who was wearing his jersey, being photographed with an allegedly underage girl who claimed to have had sex with Gronk, co-hosting “Access Hollywood Live”, appearing nude in an ESPN publication, and partying it up both for the ESPN photo spread and for the ESPYs. Even your very own Ghost Rat had an encounter with Gronk in the offseason, catching Gronk using a gay slur in Twitter and calling him out before the tweet was taken down moments later. This culmination of activities has allegedly led the Patriots brass (presumably through Belichick) to bring Gronk back down to earth, reminding him that the team is more important than the individual, and that he should be curbing his extracurricular activities now that the new season is at hand. And Gronk will undoubtedly get the message and resume being a beast only on the field, at least until the season is over.
While I am not one to find wisdom in the adage that “boys will be boys”, it is nonetheless tempting to excuse most of Gronk’s behavior as good-natured child’s play being carried out by a guy who at least resembles the stereotype of a dumb jock. Gronk is 23 years old, is a top athlete in prime physical condition, and has women throwing themselves at him on (likely) a daily basis. What young football player would want more, especially on the heels of being awarded an 8 year, $55 million contract? Gronk is excited, he is popular, and he is damn good at what he does on the football field, so it stands to reason that some of this just might go to his head.
But what of Robert Kraft?
The 71 year old owner of the Patriots has been repeatedly in the public presence of 32 year old actress Ricki Noel Lander. Kraft, of course, last year lost his wife of 48 years Myra Kraft, who was a champion of service and charity, and the key driving force behind the Patriots being one of the most charitable NFL teams. While everyone deserves to find happiness and Kraft owes no explanations for dating a woman less than half his age, the appearance of a raucous video tape featuring cursing and really bad acting between the two then surfaced on the internet, causing many to think, “What the hell has happened to this guy?” (see clips here) When the video first surfaced, I was one of many fans who was tempted to simply brush it off as silly and bizarre. But it did not sit well with me in the days that followed, simply because of the glaring inconsistency with what Kraft has demanded of his own franchise.
Kraft later issued a statement responding to the video. It read, ““I tried to help Ricki prepare an audition tape for an upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy by reading Wilson’s lines. I never intended that it would be made public and I regret that it has. I think we can all agree that Owen Wilson has nothing to worry about. I am going to stick to my day job.”
And that is where this has essentially ended, except in the hearts of Patriots’ fans who are uncomfortable with the video, possibly on several levels. While it is just fine for Kraft to move on with his life after the passing of Myra Kraft, doing so with Lander comes across as a desperate late life grab for youth, and is inconsistent with the image that Kraft has worked so hard to create for both himself and his organization. And yes, it was a private tape, not intended for public consumption. But Kraft has been in the public eye long enough to know that nothing is ever really private. Just ask Brett Favre.
While many correctly believe that Kraft’s ignoring of the tape will make the problem go away, buried under millions of other YouTube clips that grab our daily attention, it’s not the hearts of America that Kraft needs to be concerned with; rather, it is the hearts of the Patriot faithful who want the owner to display the same consistency that he expects from his coaches and from his players. Kraft has gone from speaking about Myra with tears in his eyes to, as one Boston columnist put it, looking like a “sad, silly, all sexed-up old fool.”
Kraft has the right to conduct himself that way if he so chooses. But perhaps if the Patriots want Gronk to keep himself in check during the season, the team’s owner will see fit to set the bar a bit higher this season. After all, Kraft isn’t 23 years old anymore, and he hasn’t been for a very long time.