Robert Kraft doesn’t seem remorseful.
The New England Patriots’ owner was spotted at several Oscars parties this weekend. You’d never suspect that just hours before, authorities in South Florida announced they planned to charge him with solicitation in a massive prostitution and human trafficking ring. And he has good reason to keep a high and unapologetic profile. He’s never going to face any consequences for the alleged solicitation.
He’s too rich for a six-figure fine to slow him down. And anyway, Kraft denied doing anything illegal, and that’s all Boston sports fans needed to hear to absolve him.
Billionaire football owners are repeatedly let off the hook for criminal, exploitative and atrocious behavior. They trample players’ rights, price-gouge fans and bully cities into building stadiums with taxpayer money. And the owners walk scot free once the outspoken player is released, the overpriced ticket is purchased or the gaudy new stadium is fully built.
Kraft is just the latest example. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was fined, but didn’t lose his team when was arrested for DUI in 2014. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was forced to pay nearly $100 million in penalties for defrauding customers of his company Pilot Flying J, but faced no sanctions from the NFL. Perhaps worst of them all, though, is Washington Redskins owner/reprehensible human Dan Snyder, who created an entire news network to battle unflattering coverage of his team, whose name is a racial slur he’s repeatedly refused to change. He’s also attacked journalists and even found a way to charge fans for parking even when they didn’t drive to the game. But the most recent press clippings about Snyder? Media outlets like Bloomberg fawning over his $100 million IMAX theater-equipped superyacht.
Professional football’s fealty to billionaire team owners is a symptom of America’s dysfunctional approach to billionaires. The league’s top executives have covered up player safety issues, colluded against peaceful protestors and habitually re-employed domestic abusers. But since they collectively control a sport Americans can’t get enough of, they face no retribution whatsoever. A fan upset by overpriced tickets or Colin Kaepernick’s blackballing knows they can’t really do anything about it aside from a personal boycott. They’re putting money back in the owners’ pockets every time they tune into a game.
Kraft has predictably received sympathy from Boston fans and media. He’s a rich guy who can do what he wants with his money, they say. He’s not married, so why shouldn’t he be allowed to enjoy himself? They’re evidently not troubled that his enjoyment involved women coerced into performing sex acts on the same massage tables they slept on after servicing upwards of eight men a day. They’re eager to defend him as the greatest owner in modern sports, the guy who’s brought them six Super Bowls. But his only achievement is employing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the greatest football coach and quarterback of all-time, respectively. He’s just another medieval lord in the league’s feudal enterprise.
Kraft might receive a fine or suspension from the NFL, but nothing more. He likely won’t spend a day in jail. And who knows—maybe Kraft’s charges will raise the case’s profile and bring attention to human trafficking. Perhaps it will spark a real conversation about why sex work shouldn’t be criminalized in the first place. But we all know it’ll just start reanimate the chorus of Boston blowhards defending an odious billionaire who deserves their sympathy as much as he needs their money.