In mid-August, Robert Kraft invited Attorney General Maura Healey for breakfast at his Chestnut Hill home. Healey wanted to launch an educational initiative that would teach high school students about teen dating violence, dangerous relationships, and respect for women. Kraft wanted to fund programs that would raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault, while fostering cultural change.
They sat down to coffee, muffins, and a serious conversation.
Healey quickly realized Kraft and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation would make perfect partners. And Kraft had the same thought about Healey and the attorney general’s office.
At that breakfast meeting, plans for Game Change: The Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership were put in motion.
Healey and Kraft announced their collaboration during a Tuesday morning news conference, vowing to combat youth violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault through educational programming in 90 public Massachusetts high schools. The programming will discuss relationship violence, and teach students how to recognize warning signs of unhealthy relationships and how to intervene.
Back in her office, Healey sat next to Kraft for an interview with the Globe and reflected on the breakfast that launched the partnership.
“You pushed me on things,” Healey said to Kraft. “You asked, ‘What are you thinking? What are the concrete things you need to execute on to make a difference?’ We had a really good back and forth on building a program that was going to work. I think we both share a view where we’re actually about execution, we’re about getting things done and getting results . . . I know we’ve got no greater winner pressing us and holding us accountable.”
Not missing a beat, Kraft chimed in, “I promise we’ll do that.”
Kraft and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation are actually promising much more. They have given $500,000 to the Game Change partnership. That money combined with $150,000 from the attorney general’s office will cover the cost of training students, faculty, and coaches, as well as in-depth programming at 30 of the schools. That programming will involve local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy organizations and help students and families already dealing with violence.
For the Krafts and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, the Game Change partnership is one component of a $1.5 million domestic violence and sexual assault prevention initiative.
When asked whether the NFL was doing enough about domestic violence and whether he hoped other owners would follow his lead, Kraft talked about the good and bad of his high-profile position with a high-profile team in a high-profile sport. After all, it was the viral video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée that led Kraft to learn more about domestic violence and statistics he called “mind-boggling.”
Kraft repeatedly cited the fact that one in three women experienced sexual or physical violence. Then he mentioned his two granddaughters in college and one going next year. And he remarked on the courage of Mary Dunne and Malcolm Astley, who also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference. Their daughter, Lauren Dunne Astley, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2011 after breaking up with him.
“We weren’t going to have a press conference,” said Kraft. “Then, the attorney general convinced us that the celebrity of our team could help bring more awareness and was good. We like to go in and do the groundwork and let people then grab it. But I think she’s probably right here because we want young kids to pay attention and know that this is important. I think my brethren around the league are also concerned.”
Healey interjected, showing how the new partners motivate each other.
“I’ll just say something about the NFL because maybe Mr. Kraft can’t, OK?” said Healey. “The NFL, in my view, hasn’t done enough. We’ve talked about this. I mouthed off about that a while back. In terms of their priorities and how they allocate resources and where they choose to focus time, energy, and money, I think they’ve been out of line and it’s been misplaced. This is what the NFL should be replicating and doing. I hope that this can be a model for other owners in other states.”
With a nod to the Patriots’ success, Kraft added: “When you win, they come after you and try to follow you. So, let’s win and they’ll be after us big time.”
The potential winning model will rely heavily on the expertise of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program (MVP) run by Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, as well as the advocacy group Jane Doe Inc. MVP will conduct the educational programs for the high school students and staff members. Jane Doe Inc. will help select local domestic violence and sexual assault organizations that will provide ongoing support for students and their families.
Healey plans to start Game Change immediately, asking schools to apply through her office’s website. By the end of Tuesday, several schools had already reached out and expressed interest.
But both Healey and Kraft know progress against domestic violence and sexual assault won’t come quickly or easily. The Game Change program is focused on the long term, the big win of sustained cultural change.
Asked specifically what that win would look like, Healey didn’t hesitate.
“It’s that every child in New England and Massachusetts grows up with an understanding that relationship violence is unacceptable,” she said. “They understand sexual abuse and domestic violence are unacceptable, and that they have the tools to fight it. It’s a reduction in calls to hotlines over the next few years.
“It’s a reduction in the need for shelter and housing for survivors and victims of violence. It’s fewer incidents reported in schools, to police, to district attorney’s offices. But it’s going to take time.”