WBUR's Steve Almond tells M&C how Robert Kraft and NFL fans both play into football's culture of exploitation

Alex Reimer
February 27, 2019 - 11:38 am

WBUR commentator Steve Almond writes the crux of the Robert Kraft story is about how a multibillionaire allegedly exploited the bodies of young women for his personal satisfaction. In Almond’s mind, that doesn’t make Kraft all that different from the tens of thousands of Patriots fans who pack Gillette Stadium every Sunday. They derive their enjoyment from the exploitation of the bodies of young brown men, he writes in his WBUR column. 

In an interview Wednesday on “Mut & Callahan,” Almond defended his column to Mut, Callahan and Jermaine Wiggins. 

“I think there are a lot of people who are ready to say, ‘Hey, it’s a nice 77-year-old man whose wife passed away. What’s the problem? He wants to have a little pleasure in that way,’” Almond explained. “They find a way to say, ‘that’s cool,’ even though the reason he was allegedly caught on videotape is because they were running a sting operation, because these young women were essentially enslaved. The reason a business like that exists –– there’s a $3 billion trade in sex trafficking –– is because of customers. It’s the same reason Jermaine and other incredibly talented athletes are offered millions of dollars to risk their health. Somebody has to pay into it. Lots of individual fans have to sponsor that activity to make it so profitable. That changes the incentive system for players. It’s not, ‘Do this because it’s so exciting and you love your teammates.’ It’s, ‘Do this because there are millions of dollars.’ That changes the math you would do in your head about the kind of risks you would incur. The fans are part of the system that make it a huge profitable industry.”

Almond went on to say Kraft and his fellow NFL owners, who hid the dangers of concussions from players for decades, also feed into the exploitation. “A guy like Bob Kraft is making money, because –– it’s not his body down there or his brain that will wind up in cognitive decline –– that’s what he’s making money off of,” he said. “Something can be two things at the same time. You just have to allow a game can be thrilling, amazing and have all sorts of good values associated with it, but can also be corrupt.”

While the NFL is placing an emphasis on player safety now, Almond says their motives are disingenuous. If ex-players weren’t suing the league, and if there wasn’t an avalanche of bad PR, Almond doubts the league would try to combat the issue so aggressively.

Still, much like prostitution rings wouldn’t operate without customers, the NFL wouldn’t produce billions of dollars in revenue without fans. Almond, once an ardent NFL follower, says he’s decided to give the game up due to its inherent danger.

“I was a fan for 40 years. I loved the sport. I played it when I was younger. I loved watching it. I think it’s basically the most entertaining sport in America, which is part of the reason it’s so insanely profitable and such a huge business,” Almond said. “But now that I’m 40 and I have kids, I have to see how they might be viewing the game, and what they’re watching when they have the game on. Football is amazing and entertaining, but it’s also a moral undertaking. And I started asking really unpleasant questions, like, ‘Is it OK for me to be watching a sport where the league knows 30 percent of players are going to wind up with permanent damage to their brains?’ You get one body. When my mom had cognitive difficulties late in her life, it really brought it home, in terms of thinking about Junior Seau and other great players who struggled with that. You don’t really get it until you’re in a hospital room. It’s really terrifying and really horrible.” 


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