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The Moral Corruption Of Robert Kraft

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the field before a game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. (Winslow Townson/AP)
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the field before a game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. (Winslow Townson/AP)

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution as part of police sting on a Florida spa suspected of human trafficking. Police say Kraft was caught on surveillance video in the midst of a sexual act. Kraft’s representatives have “categorically” denied that he was engaged in any illegal activity.

Kraft’s most vociferous defender has offered up a much more robust defense. Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, insists that Kraft has done nothing wrong. In fact, he says, the 77-year-old Kraft is actually a victim.

Of whom? Well, sanctimonious reporters and pundits for one. “A rub and tug is the most American thing this country” has to offer, Portnoy reasoned, in a recent impromptu press conference shared on Twitter. Ah yes, the rub and tug — right up there with mom and apple pie!

But to Portnoy, a self-styled sports demagogue who combines the Boston boosterism of Bill Simmons with the enraged paranoia of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Kraft saga has all the markings of a nefarious plot hatched by NFL commisioner Roger Goodell. That’s right! Goodell couldn’t beat the Pats on the field, so he conspired to entrap Kraft into soliciting sex on video. Talk about dastardly machinations.

This theory was just unhinged enough to appeal to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who is always eager to uncover the ways in which rich, white billionaires are being wronged by a cruel world stacked against them. Carlson, last spotted getting owned by a Dutch historian, immediately provided Portnoy a platform to bloviate.

(I’ve chosen not link to either of these videos — Google them if you must — because the whole point of Portnoy and Carlson is to generate clickbait and thereby ad revenue.)

But I happen to agree with Portnoy on one basic point: Bob Kraft is not, himself, a sex trafficker. He is merely — and at this point allegedly — part of a much larger market system that conscripts young women into sexual slavery.

... the entire football industrial complex is predicated on the exploitation of the bodies of young workers, most of them brown bodies.

It’s easy enough to heap scorn on guys like Kraft, and to ignore the ways in which nearly all of us participate in systems of economic exploitation, which range from consuming pornography to buying the latest iteration of the iPhone.

But in the case of Kraft, in particular, it’s worth stressing a very basic point that people like Portnoy spend their lives trying to ignore: the entire football industrial complex is predicated on the exploitation of the bodies of young workers, most of them brown bodies.

Most of the kids who get serious about football are kids of color who grow up poor. They look to football as a chance — perhaps their only chance — at fame, glory and riches. And in exchange for that opportunity, they are willing to ignore the medically documented risks, which include a significant risk of permanent brain damage and debilitating injuries.

The entire economic model created and perpetuated by the NFL owners relies on this exploitation of bodies. As much money as an NFL star earns per year, the men who “own” them earn a hundred, or even a thousand, times more.

They make all this money not because they’re smart or hard-working, but because they have millions upon millions of sponsors — people like you and me and Dave Portnoy — who are willing to pay for the thrill of watching young men engage in an inherently violent game.

When it comes to football, we’re all in the same boat as Robert Kraft. We’re all basically johns who rationalize the moral corruption of our fandom by telling ourselves that we’re doing nothing wrong, because the workers are getting paid.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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