In announcing today that his team won’t appeal the sanctions imposed by the NFL over the boondoggle known as Deflategate, Robert Kraft bowed down to Roger Goodell. Kraft may see his folding as a way to maintain dignity and preserve his image, when in reality, his actions today only did more harm in those areas, both in New England and across America.
The only way the previous sentence, and everything written below, isn’t true would be if Tom Brady and the Patriots really did break the rules, and to a greater degree than we realize (and if so, why didn’t Ted Wells, Mr. Independent, include that in his findings?).
Kraft is well known as one of the best and most successful owners in sports and one of the real power brokers in the NFL. It’s as if today’s press conference was a way to maintain the latter, while hoping that Patriots fans would forgive the pathetic performance he put on display. Kraft has always come across as a man of integrity, and today he gave in to a man with no integrity in kissing Goodell’s rear end.
The popular thought is that Goodell and Kraft made a deal that will lift Tom Brady’s suspension if Kraft agrees not to pursue an appeal against the team penalties. If true, it’s an embarrassment for Kraft and an indirect indictment of Brady, who takes a hit even if he’s reinstated by virtue of Kraft rolling over.
If Brady’s suspension is rescinded because of whatever may have gone down behind closed doors, it makes Brady look guiltier than ever and gives critics ammunition to claim that Brady, while technically sporting a clean record, probably cheated and got away because his football dad is friends with the football cop. It gives even the staunchest Brady backers doubts, because if Brady and the Patriots are truly blameless, why wouldn’t they fight?
Goodell and the league deliberately targeted their best player in an attempt to damage his character. Why that bogus story about psi that was leaked to Chris Mortensen and ignited the whole debacle? That story was false on every level and never retracted. The NFL lets it sit there for whatever reason, but it’s not a stretch to say the story lives on in an effort to damage Brady. Oh, that’s a stretch? Well, it’s no more a stretch than any conclusion reached in the Wells Report. And by backing down, Kraft allowed the assault on Brady to live on in perpetuity because while the draft picks are separate from Brady’s suspension, they belong to the same alleged wrongdoing.
Kraft’s dead dog routine today paved the way for more Goodell madness, but hey, as long as Kraft is getting something in return—and how can he not be?—he doesn’t care. Goodell used Kraft, Brady, and the Patriots to restore his image as a hard-nosed man of integrity, which is funny because in doing so he yet again proved that he’s a man of none by pandering to 31 fan bases even though it was cowardly and barely defensible.
Kraft is delusional if he thinks the rest of the country will view him and his team in a better light than it did last week. But again, he probably doesn’t care. He’s more concerned with appeasing his fellow owners, which he did with today’s press conference. Hell, even some sheep in the media are praising Kraft for being the bigger man. Great, you’re the bigger man, Robert. You also allowed your team to be labeled cheaters and tacitly admitted it by not fighting. It’s a disgrace. Unless, of course, they’re actually guilty.
Kraft acted like he owed Goodell and the NFL something. By all accounts, it’s Goodell who owes his career to Kraft. Kraft’s paid his dues as on owner, serves on various committees, funded his own stadium, and really owes nothing to the league. From the start, Kraft has done it the right way. He’s getting older and this should have been his last battle, going out guns blazing. The league just screwed him and his best player for no other reason than they wanted to cover their own asses and look tough to the rest of the world. With Bob Kraft’s actions today, he officially let them win.
As a Patriots fan, it’s hard to find any solace in what happened. I don’t know what Kraft is getting in return, but unless it’s a full apology, retraction of all the spurious claims that have leaked since January, and the punishments dropped, it’s not enough.
Robert Kraft and the Patriots are not a mom and pop shop being pushed out by the big guy. They have the resources to fight. If they feel they’ve done nothing wrong, they have the ability to fight like hell to prove it. It may not play well with the other owners, which is why Kraft demonstrated today that he cares more about appeasing them at all costs. Maybe that’s the lesson we learned today: Kraft’s loyalty isn’t to his fans or to his players’ reputations, but rather, to the commissioner and 31 other owners, a collective that has been twisting the knife in his back for months.