If there is one clear take-away from the NFL and the New York Times’ Twitter-war last week, it is that Robert Kraft, after a year on the outs, is back to being one of the league’s most influential voices. Kraft’s fruitless strategy of responding to a perceived injustice by creating an NFL.com-anchored blog has been adopted by the league to defend itself against the big, bad, Gray Lady. The results, while predictable, have also been rather eye-opening. It’s not going well, you guys.
In fact, I’d say the “passive-aggressive tumblr update” strategy is a hard 0 for 2 at the plate thus far, and as someone who has spent more time than I’m proud of on the Wells Report In Context website let me first say that when the Patriots decided to launch it I thought it was a decent idea. It’s not like Kraft was ever going to sue the league and it’s not like he could have just appealed the fine and draft picks so he went ahead and……. wait what? The Kansas City Chiefs are appealing their fine and draft picks? Just like that?
Yup. Just like that. The Patriots did not appeal their penalty of a million dollar fine, a first round pick this year and a fourth round pick next year. Instead, Robert Kraft famously announced he would end the rhetoric and thus pushed the onus of defending Tom Brady’s honor (and a quarter of his season) onto the NFLPA. Had the Patriots appealed the money and picks there is a very good chance that Goodell would have heard the appeal himself, (as he’s doing with the Chiefs and as he did with Tom Brady) and it likely would not have changed much. But to not even try? To meekly accept losing a potential Vince Wilfork/Richard Seymour/Logan Mankins/Devin McCourty/Dont’a Hightower/Chandler Jones without even putting up a fight? Ridiculous, isn’t it? Almost as ridiculous as Kraft’s bewilderment when Patriots fans reacted badly to his continued praise of the commissioner last week.
“Personal issue aside, I think [Goodell] has done a good job,” – Robert Kraft 3/21/16
Hearing those words come out of anyone’s mouth is enough to turn a wide variety of stomachs. Roger Goodell is not, by any measure, doing anything resembling a “good job” at many of his duties as commissioner of the league. The NFL is without a doubt making an outrageous amount of money, but it’s credibility and public trust have never been lower. Goodell’s theatrical failures over these past 9 years from domestic violence, to child abuse, to honoring the troops, to breast cancer awareness, to chronic traumatic encephalopathy and beyond have shown a consistent ability to botch just about every serious issue he’s faced. When the commissioner speaks on these topics there is almost never a reasonable expectation that what he’s saying is true, and with Kraft’s recent comments regarding the quality of Goodell’s work as commissioner, we’re forced to lump Kraft back in with NFL’s floundering reputation.
Before I go any further let me just say that Robert Kraft’s tenure as the owner of the New England Patriots has been an unquestionable, unprecedented success. Over the past 15 years Patriots fans have been spoiled in a way that few fanbases can relate to and the Kraft family oversaw all of it. With that said, Goodell’s NFL is becoming more and more difficult to defend with each passing year. So much so, in fact, that the only guy still defending him out loud is Robert Kraft. Not one other owner publicly stated that Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice situation was anything close to “excellent”. Even the most contrarian of radio yakkers and op-ed columnists would not go near a sentiment like that at that time.
“The way he has handled this situation himself, coming out with the mea culpa in his statement a couple weeks ago, or 10 days ago, and setting a very clear policy of how we conduct ourselves in the NFL, I thought was excellent,” – Robert Kraft 9/9/14 in the wake of Ray Rice’s supplemental punishment
Realizing that some of the things we hate the most about the NFL may be a direct result of Kraft’s influence is a tough thing to face, but his constant support of Goodell at every turn, (including when Goodell is in the process of actively railroading his franchise) makes it unavoidable. The evidence has been building for years, but the cherry on the sundae is the NFL’s cringe-worthy rebukes of the New York Times’ concussion research article.
This past year I all but begged for Robert Kraft to take a stand and publicly demand answers from Goodell and the league regarding their phony science and lack of procedural integrity in #Deflategate, instead we got the Wells Report In Context. Almost exactly a year later, the league gets deep-fried by the New York Times over their egregiously incomplete concussion research, and then that very same day the NFL fires back by refuting a list of points the Times never even made all the while desperately promoting tweets linking to it. Minus the aggressive promotion, this was the same strategy Kraft employed to contextualize the Wells Report .
Some thought the NFL’s instant response to the Times was an example of the league’s hypocrisy and stubbornness. I agree that it is, but it also must be acknowledged that Kraft’s fingerprints are all over it. What’s more, is that both of these long-winded attempts to set the record straight were nothing more than profound wastes of time and energy. Most people have already made up their minds about the issues in dispute, and those who have not are unlikely to be swayed by a never-ending blog post……. (yeah, I know)
Very few people trust the NFL these days. Many teams have felt the sting of an unjust punishment and the fanbases have responded. Roger Goodell gets booed everywhere he goes by fans of every team, but none louder than New England. It was so bad last year that Goodell wouldn’t even come to Foxboro, despite it being the home of his fiercest ally.
With such vitriol towards the shield building over the past decade in the face of astounding financial returns, it is tough to fully grasp how a league with such glaring issues and an almost 0% trust among its fans can be prospering so much. What the NFL may be showing us all right now is that it simply doesn’t require the public’s trust anymore, and considering the amount of money at stake that’s a horrifying thought. Robert Kraft had many opportunities to speak out against this as it was happening, but he chose instead to praise Roger Goodell.
In other words, the events of the past year have fooled many Patriots fans into viewing Robert Kraft as a victim of Roger Goodell’s NFL, rather than the founding father he truly is.