Monday, 25 February 2019 16:13

Kraft reveals NFL owners are not bulletproof, sometimes flighty

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I’ve known quite a few owners of professional sports teams over the years. Like any cluster of human beings with similar interests, owners run the gamut from solid citizens to those who compel you to count your fingers after you shake their hand. I bring this up after Bob Kraft, owner of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, was charged last week with frequenting a massage parlor where, for the bargain price of $79 an hour, he apparently enjoyed the pleasures of ladies specially trained in pleasuring horny old men. For an even better bargain price of zero, local sporting fans are taking great pleasure in Kraft’s dilemma, only because it puts their favorite sports commissioner, Roger Goodell, in a precarious position.

 

Goodell and Kraft once worked very closely on league business such as the mammoth television contract, but the relationship cooled after Kraft’s employees started bending league rules to the breaking point. In 2015, they filmed the other team’s defensive signals, which is against NFL rules, and two years later, they were caught deflating game footballs, making it easier for QB Tom Brady, who must have incredibly small hands, to get a better grip on the ball. (Forget what Trump said about small hands. When you’re married to fashion model Giselle Bundchen, it doesn’t matter!) Kraft was fined for those improper acts, which widened the trust gap between the owner and the commissioner. So what will Goodell do with Kraft now? Since this infraction violates the league expectations of a higher standard for owners, I suspect Kraft will be fined seven figures and suspended from attending games for a large portion of the 2019 season.

Dan Jenkins’ classic “Mankind’s Ten Stages of Drunkenness” reminds me of Kraft. The first or second drink prompts a feeling of “witty and charming,” and anybody who has ever been around Kraft knows he can certainly charm wittily. A few drinks later comes “rich and powerful,” which is a fact of life among team owners. Hit me again and I progress to “benevolent,” as every team owner can point to the millions they donate to charities. But then we drop down past several other characteristics of drinkers to the final two, “Invisible” and “Bulletproof.”  That not only perfectly describes smack-faced drunks but also team owners or any other self-important rogue or roguette who thinks they can do anything they want and nothing can touch them.

I had mentioned other owners I have known, and some had their own quirks and shortcomings. One owner worthy of note was Edgar Kaiser Jr. who owned the Broncos between 1981-84. He was not much a factor in league circles during his short term, but he became a legend after he and his wife became embroiled in a messy divorce. After agreeing to a settlement that gave Mrs. Kaiser their huge mansion, Edgar sent his construction crew out with bulldozers and leveled the building.

During my three years with the Bears, Michael McCaskey was the team president. Despite being the grandson of founder George Halas, McCaskey was an academic and college professor who, as oldest son, was expected to come home and run the family business when Halas died in 1983. McCaskey never endeared himself to any segment of the organization, including the players. When the team built the new training center in Lake Forest, Michael installed a putting green just beyond one practice field. After one of the first practices in the new facility, a group of players took a slight detour to the locker room, walking across the putting green with two-inch spikes before returning to the building. Terrible fate for poa annua. But Michael deserves credit for one thing. He once recommended a book to me that he said was ground-breaking and would become a classic. I was skeptical of a book about a boy wizard fighting the dark forces, but I read the book and I have every Harry Potter installment since.

I’ve written enough about Tom Benson and my ten years working with him, and I will say that for all his personal quirks, Mistah Tawhm stands up pretty well against his fellow owners in the areas of integrity and dedication to winning. But I close with a story about my favorite owner, Lamar Hunt of the Chiefs. When I was with the NFL Management Council, Lamar was a member of our executive committee of owners who helped determine the league’s positions on collective bargaining with the Players Association. During the 1982 strike, we convened a meeting of the executive committee in our New York office for a discussion on strategy. All the other committee members were in the room at the appointed hour, except Lamar Hunt. Nobody had heard from him in those days without texting or cell phones, so it was a mystery to all just where he was. About two hours after the meeting started, the door opened and in walked Lamar. Tex Schramm looked up and boomed as only Tex could: “Lamar, where the hell have you been?” The self-effacing Hunt looked up sheepishly and confessed: “When I got to the airport, my plane was overbooked. So they asked for volunteers to take the next flight, so I raised my hand.” “Why?” Schramm asked the man who probably could have bought and sold every other owner in the room. “Because I got a free flight out of it.”

Jim Miller's new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com. Visit his website.

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