Exoneration would be the beginning not the end for Robert Kraft
The zeal with which Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s lawyers are fighting pending charges for misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution flows from the basic reality that, if he’s found in any way responsible for any violation of the law, he’ll most definitely face a suspension from Commissioner Roger Goodell. But that doesn’t mean the reverse is true.
Exoneration in court may not be a silver bullet when it comes to the Personal Conduct Policy. Indeed, securing a dismissal or an acquittal would be the beginning not the end of the league’s decision-making process.
Because the charges involve no allegations of violence or assault, the league won’t taken any type of action before the legal proceedings have resolved, including potential use of the Commissioner’s Exempt list. Solicitation of prostitution simply doesn’t rise to the level for paid leave, regardless of whether the accused is a player or a non-player.
If Kraft wins in court, Commissioner Roger Goodell will be faced with a major dilemma. If a player were charged with solicitation of prostitution and cleared (whether on a technicality or on the merits), he’d likely face no punishment from the NFL. Again, the absence of any claim of violence or assault would likely mean that the league would leave it alone.
But that nuance will be lost when considering the league’s common refrain that owners are held to a higher standard, and when realizing that multiple players who were never arrested or charged with anything have received significant suspensions. From Ben Roethlisberger (four games in 2010, never arrested or charged) to Ezekiel Elliott (six games in 2017, never arrested or charged) to Kareem Hunt (eight games in 2019, never arrested or charged), the league has set a clear precedent when it comes to punishing players who received no punishment (or even scrutiny) from the criminal justice system.
Kraft’s lawyers may try to thread the needle if he’s ultimately cleared in court, arguing that the players listed above were accused of violence and/or assault and pointing out that since a player would get no suspension if exonerated on misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution, a non-player should receive no suspension as well. Given the aggressive defense that Kraft’s lawyers have mounted, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the lawyers have connected the dots and concluded that complete victory in a court or law could lead to complete victory in the Court of Commissioner Goodell.
Logically, that makes sense. As a practical matter, however, it will be hard to make it fly. The league has been far too aggressive with players who were neither arrested nor charged to look the other way when an owner has been charged and has issued a statement of apology, even if his lawyers manage to expose successfully the many flaws and defects of the Florida investigation, even if the cases involving player suspensions absent charges can readily be distinguished, and even if the truth ultimately is that there never was any actual solicitation.
In this case, the lawyers (who obviously make more money the longer this lingers) may need to take a back seat to common sense. While Kraft has every right to aggressively defend his name and his record when it comes to the pending legal charges, any sort of billable hour echo chamber that may be telling Kraft a win in court equals no punishment from Goodell could be badly missing the mark, resulting in needless delays and a stream of six-figure monthly invoices aimed at securing an outcome in Florida that may not lead to the presumed outcome in Manhattan.