The immediate reaction is born of pure emotion, prompting phrases such as “Oh my God!” and “He did what?” to escape your lips without thinking, to cause the breath to catch in your throat and the eyes to pop in your head.
News of Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing criminal charges in Florida for solicitation of prostitution is one of those headlines that stops you in your tracks, immediately flooding your mind with more questions than you know can be answered, sending your thoughts into a spiral of tangled emotions.
Anger, disgust, disappointment, shock, denial, disdain . . . all of them with the right to course through your veins, even as you await the avalanche of detail that is sure to follow the initial revelations. Sadness, too, as we are again reminded that so much of what we see in professional sports can be just a facade, that as much as we’ve already learned the hard way, we never really know the people behind the uniforms, and we can’t really know the people who sign the paychecks either.
If Kraft has put himself at risk in such an irresponsible manner, it would go against the profile of responsible team ownership he has long crafted, against the caring, paternalistic vibe he has cultivated to the highest levels of his roster. How many times have we heard Tom Brady speak of his love for Kraft, of his respect for a man he says he’s spent more time with in the past two decades than his own father? What do his players make of him now?
If what we heard Friday is true, it would be enough to shake the foundation of trust in a man who only weeks ago stood atop the NFL world, celebrating a sixth Super Bowl title for the team he has owned since 1994. It is enough to make us wonder whether the NFL will have no choice but to step in with discipline.
Aside from whatever titillating jokes inevitably will come, and whatever dismissals some are sure to make at what they see as prudish reactions, the ramifications of this story may be far more serious than fodder for a stand-up comic’s monologue. The massage parlor in question, Orchids of Asia in Jupiter, Fla., is part of a larger investigation into sex trafficking, which means the women could have been used for sex acts against their will.
The Jupiter police said they’ve been conducting a months-long investigation into area massage parlors, charging nearly 200 people in the process, and perhaps most unsettling of all, they said they have videos of Kraft and other customers involved in the sex acts.
An immediate statement from the Kraft camp — “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.” — makes you wonder what they believe about those alleged videos, but also leaves you with that other immediate reaction: “What else do you expect them to say?”
If the charges prove true, the impact of this story has only just begun to be felt. Kraft has been widely regarded as a pillar among NFL owners, recently lauded from all corners on the 25th anniversary of his purchase of the team, admiration wrapped in the dominant franchise he’s built through the twin cornerstones of Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Kraft has never been perceived as a Jerry Jones type, never been some sort of renegade lone wolf always ready to challenge the establishment in the way the Dallas Cowboys owner has, never seen driving his own party bus through the streets of Indianapolis during the NFL Scouting Combine the way Jones has been known to do.
Which brings us back to where we started, to the shock and “Oh my God” of it all. What a mess this is.
Sympathy goes first and foremost to those who may be the real victims, the workers who may have been forced into the sex trade. Beyond that, you can’t help but feel for Kraft’s extended family too, for the memory of his late wife Myra, for his children who are no doubt shamed by association, for employees in the Patriots organization and those in Kraft’s many other business holdings who have no way of knowing what the repercussions may be.