Reimer: Why Roger Goodell will handle Robert Kraft differently than other Patriots scandals

Alex Reimer
February 25, 2019 - 12:10 pm

Robert Kraft will probably suffer nominal legal penalties for his misdemeanor charge of twice soliciting prostitutes at a seedy day spa in Florida. The more complicated scenario involves how the NFL will discipline one of its most powerful kingmakers, especially considering the Patriots’ strained history with the league office.

Though Kraft may face some of the toughest sanctions ever foisted upon an owner, this case will not be handled in the same manner as Deflategate or Spygate. For starters, both of those episodes affected the competitive balance on the field. Kraft’s alleged activities inside of the Orchid of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla. have nothing to do with the football team, which is why the Patriots probably won’t be stripped of a single draft pick –– never mind their entire board, contrary to Bart Scott’s insane recommendation.

Also, the NFL has a vested interest in handling the Kraft manner responsibly. Headlines about one of the league’s most prominent faces allegedly soliciting sex workers whom authorities say were part of a widespread international human trafficking operation –– five message parlors along Florida’s Treasure Coast have been ensnared in the investigation –– is an atrocious look. It’s far different than Deflategate, which was a scandal without a crime. In the end, one could even say the Deflategate melodrama served as a net positive for the league in terms of generating interest.

The NFL released a statement Monday saying it will hold Kraft accountable, but wants to wait until all of the facts are surfaced. "Our Personal Conduct Policy applies equally to everyone in the NFL,” it reads. “We will handle this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the Policy. We are seeking a full understanding of the facts, while ensuring that we do not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. We will take appropriate action as warranted based on the facts.”

The NFL’s Personal Conduct police says all league personnel must refrain from 'conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in' the NFL,” with owners being held to an even higher standard than players. That’s the explanation Goodell provided when he suspended Colts owner Jim Irsay six games for driving under the influence in a car filled with prescription drugs and nearly $30,000 in the glove compartment. A woman was also found dead of a drug overdose in a townhouse given to her by Irsay around the same time in 2014.

When surmising how long Kraft will be barred from Gillette Stadium, Irsay’s six-game suspension is a good place to start. The possibility exists Kraft will be given a lengthier banishment, because of his stature and the human trafficking tie. Though Kraft almost certainly didn’t know about the inner-workings of Orchid Asia Day Spa, these sordid businesses operate because they attract customers.

If the allegations are correct, Kraft violated the personal conduct policy. This case is damaging to the NFL and its reputation. But it’s unlikely other owners will publicly cheerlead Goodell in his pursuit for justice, because this matter hits far closer to home than deflated footballs or videotaping signals. This isn’t about the Patriots, meaning the loathed Bill Belichick isn’t involved. This is only about Kraft.

In addition to owners and league officials prodding Goodell to prosecute Tom Brady during Deflategate, the commissioner had a vested personal interest in squashing the Patriots’ quarterback. After losing the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases, Goodell was looking to reaffirm his disciplinary power. Forcing Brady to miss four games for a glorified equipment violation accomplish that, giving the owners another strong leverage point heading into the next round of CBA talks.

Goodell can’t gain any negotiating leverage here.

Also, Brady fought the NFL for over one year, proclaiming his innocence until the end. While Kraft may not be forced to enter a guilty plea in court, he’ll likely cooperate with Goodell, his longtime partner. Unless Kraft is truly innocent, it’s hard to imagine what he would gain from fighting this. 

The NFL and Kraft are probably on the same page. They know there must be severe penalties, which will likely result in Kraft not being permitted to witness the banner raising ceremony on Opening Night. That would hurt, but it must be done, and preferably in a clean manner. 

No chance this turns into Deflategate redux.