If Robert Kraft admits wrongdoing and says he’s sorry he paid for sex, he would make it easier for some woke women of Massachusetts to forgive him — and continue taking money connected to his name for causes they believe in.
But so far, contrition isn’t part of Kraft’s game plan. Not after the New England Patriots owner reportedly rejected a plea offered by Florida prosecutors that would have required him to admit that he was guilty of soliciting prostitution when he visited a Florida day spa in January. So what now for those women whose causes have benefitted from Kraft-connected generosity?
The office of Attorney General Maura Healey is partnered with the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation for a program called “Game Change,” which educates young people about the dangers of relationship violence and sexual assault. In a statement given before news broke of Kraft’s rejection of the plea deal, a Healey spokeswoman said, “In light of the allegations against Mr. Kraft, it’s clear that our office cannot continue this partnership without an acceptance of responsibility and serious remediation, or his resignation from the foundation. We need to send a message to young people and survivors of human trafficking that these actions are unacceptable.”
The foundation, which is headed by Kraft’s son Josh, initially contributed $500,000 to Game Change and has given more since then. Kraft, who according to Healey’s office, sits on the foundation board, has been front and center on the Game Change mission. Last October, the two hosted a student leadership summit at Gillette Stadium.
Given that Healey’s office aggressively prosecutes prostitution and human trafficking cases, keeping an ongoing relationship with the Patriots foundation seems problematic, with or without Kraft on the board. (How Healey, who oversees state public charities, can partner with an entity that her office has responsibility for regulating is a question for another day.)
Also under pressure is Jane Doe Inc., another advocacy group that received $500,000 from the Patriots foundation to fund an “Initiative for Safety and Justice,” which is also focused on the fight against sexual and domestic violence. Spokeswoman Toni Troop said her organization has never supported a zero-tolerance policy for sexual predators or batterers. “It’s about individuals taking responsibility for their own behavior in the past and what they commit to going forward,” she said. The same thinking applies to Kraft’s situation. “We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all. There’s room for contrition,” she said.
But others who advocate specifically against trafficking and sexual exploitation see good reason for zero tolerance in this case. In a letter to the NFL, some national anti-trafficking groups say that if Kraft paid for sex at a Florida spa, he’s not fit to own a football team. Lisa Goldblatt Grace, executive director of My Life My Choice, a Boston-based nonprofit that has received money in the past from the Patriots foundation, was among 84 letter signers who called for the league “to banish” Kraft from team ownership if an investigation determines he “engaged in the purchase of women for sex.”
“As the NFL investigation of the charges against Mr. Kraft unfolds, it is imperative that NFL leadership recognize that payment for sex, whether with money or something else of value, is the hallmark of unwanted sex,” the letter states. “Properly understood, payment for sex, whether with money or something else of value, is the hallmark of unwanted sex.”
The political distancing from Kraft has begun. Senator Edward J. Markey is donating $3,600 that Kraft contributed to him to an organization focused on ending human trafficking. But what about organizations fighting sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking? Should they break off any Kraft-connected partnerships and turn down money connected to the Kraft family name?
Absent contrition from Kraft or ownership of the alleged conduct that got him into trouble — absolutely. If they care more about the principle behind the cause than the man with all the money.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.