The Response By Robert Kraft in the Face of a Crisis

Dr. Aaron Perlut
robert kraft crisis dr aaron perlut

The news of Patriots owner Robert Kraft getting busted for solicitation of prostitution in Florida dominated the headlines in the NFL. Our resident NFL columnist at large Dr. Aaron Perlut checks in with his view on how Kraft handled the bad news.

As we have all heard during the past week, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is among 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution after allegedly receiving sex acts in a Florida massage parlor at least twice in recent months.

From what we can gather through the near billion news outlets reporting on the scandal, Florida law enforcement officials apparently, have a strong case, going so far as to publicly detail Kraft was videotaped receiving oral and manual sex and paying a woman at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla.

His world is crashing down around him as his face is plastered across every news outlet and social media platform known to mankind and now being associated with prostitution, human trafficking, slavery, and evil. And this debacle he finds himself embroiled in has consequences for not only him but his family, friends the Patriots and the NFL.

Even worse for Kraft — and yes, it gets worse — the police investigation into the spa was aimed at stopping human trafficking, which Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg equated to “modern-day slavery,” calling it “evil in our midst.”

I’ve heard journalists breaking this down ad nauseum over the past week without really saying very much of substance nor interest. But more than anything, football is a business, and as someone who helps protect brand reputation for a living, it’s worth breaking this down from a sports business perspective.

Kraft is more than just an owner. He is an NFL figurehead and one of three most visible Patriots ambassadors (behind Tom Brady and Bill Belichick) representing a brand valued by Forbes at $1.4 billion, that is, in turn, a sub-brand of an embattled league that still managed to eke out some $11 billion in revenue in 2017.

His world is crashing down around him as his face is plastered across every news outlet and social media platform known to mankind and now being associated with prostitution, human trafficking, slavery, and evil. And this debacle he finds himself embroiled in has consequences for not only him but his family, friends the Patriots and the NFL.

Thus far, I’ve been concerned at how Kraft’s team has managed this crisis and were I in his ear, this is what I’d be telling him.

His immediate denial didn’t do him any favors.

In beginning its defense of Kraft’s reputation before the evidence becomes public, his team started with what I found to be a rather remarkable mistake by stating: “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity.”

Denial is typical and standard, certainly. But ask yourself this: Would the police be stating publicly they have the Patriots’ owner caught on video getting a little sumpin-sumpin had he not been caught in the act? Of course not, and most people’s sense of reason will certainly not side with Kraft if, in fact, we ultimately find he lied.

Shield yourself with the law.

The Kraft Group would have been wise to solely use the latter part of its media statement: “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”

When any crisis falls under legal jurisdiction, unless you are at least 113.7 percent certain you’ve done nothing wrong, you should leverage that lawful engagement to delay in directly responding to an accusation. You might recall then-candidate Donald Trump hilariously took this tact with his taxes. I say “hilariously” because there really was no legal jurisdiction, but somehow it worked (with some). Regardless, the general rule of thumb when managing a crisis involving law enforcement — as any competent attorney should advise — is to withhold comment. Don’t forget, your public statements to the press can ultimately be used against you in a court of law.

Prepare for your eventuality with reasonable, credible messaging.

Beyond a strip mall quality deep tissue rub down, few people know what truly happened with Kraft in those massage parlors, or for that matter, with Citigroup President and COO John Havens and Wall Street financier John Childs, who have also been accused. Kraft, however, fully knows what happened.

He may not have known that the women tending to him at the day spa were potentially enslaved into prostitution, but he certainly knows whether he stuck something where maybe he shouldn’t have. And if he did, Kraft needs to carefully prepare his mea culpa for the eventuality when the aforementioned video that law enforcement has gleefully boasted about goes public in a ball of TMZ fury.

Perhaps a statement along these lines would work:

After my wife Myra passed away in 2011, I began a deep spiral into a dark place. I was lonely, I was in pain, and I sought comfort in places I should not have. But I now realize how wrong I was — how these terrible choices have only hurt me and those I love. More than anything, I must continue my journey of healing in a healthy manner — through the love of those who truly love me including my children and grandchildren, good friends and all of those who have supported me throughout my life. I am truly sorry and will accept any legal punishment as well as that from the National Football League which I recognize I have hurt and damaged with my actions.

— New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft

To me, that’s a reasonable narrative I can somewhat buy, even if I just wrote it at my kitchen table while high on mass consumption of Twinkies and Diet Coke.

Take your medicine like a big boy.

If found guilty by a court of law, or Dr. Phil, Kraft will need to humbly accept his legal penalty, most likely a fine and probation. The real penalty will come when the meaty palm of the NFL slaps Kraft’s wrist. The league will probably hit him with, at the very least, a season-long suspension as well as a multi-million-dollar fine. Ouch!

But if Kraft and his inner circle are wise — and that video contains what we have been led to believe — he’s already talking to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his penalty which will include relinquishing control of the Patriots.

Have a dignified exit strategy.  

Do you recall when Jerry Richardson was forcibly detached from the Carolina Panthers following his scandal? Well, in reality, Kraft is done, dead weight for the Patriots and NFL for the foreseeable future, which for a soon-to-be 78-year-old — that means he’s a goner.

So say goodbye, Bob. No more owner’s box, sideline strolls with Tommy B., Lombardi Trophy presentations, nor Super Bowl parades. His son Jonathan Kraft is team president and has been relatively visible with the elder Kraft during games in the owner’s box. It’s his team now.

The final move will be remembered most.

It’s in Kraft’s best interest to exit with whatever dignity he can, avoid any disputes such as the sad-sack fight Donald Sterling put up when he was jettisoned by the NBA for making racist remarks, lest Kraft’s reputation becomes even more tarnished.

Although, it’s hard to imagine a worse way to ride off into the sunset, right?