New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently accepted the Sports Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award and used the setting to reiterate his corporate values.
The Sports Business Journal’s 2022 Celebration of Service Award honors leaders who work diligently to improve society, set an example for community building, and serve as a catalyst for positive social change. Robert Kraft, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Kraft Group, joins the ranks of icons such as Billie Jean King, Dan Rooney, and Jerry Jones.
“The most important thing that differentiates this industry is the platform it gives you to impact your community and champion for causes you are passionate about,” Kraft reportedly said at the annual awards ceremony held in New York City. “The visibility and popularity of sports is powerful, and that power can be used to do so much good on so many different levels. I’m very proud that in 1994, my first year of ownership of the Patriots, we were the first team in pro sports to include 10 mandatory community appearances a year on behalf of nonprofits into the contracts of each player we signed.”
Kraft went on the record indicating that members of the New England Patriots leadership circle were not on board with requiring professional athletes to give back. Without naming the former coach, Kraft stated the idea of anything other than a laser focus on winning football games was met with “disdain.” But the Brookline, Mass., native who would rise in both the business and sports world held firm to his beliefs. The community service requirement has remained a part of team members’ standard contract since he purchased the NFL team in 1994.
The community service mandate has not been reserved strictly for the organization’s professional athletes, some of whom have emerged as household names. Setting an example for the entire Kraft Group operation, the CEO walked the walk by supporting imprisoned rapper Meek Mill.
“Whatever small role I might have played in my pal Meek’s story, I truly recognize that without the power and visibility the sports industry has given me, no one would have cared what I said outside those prison walls,” Kraft reportedly said about his role as a founding partner of Mill’s Reform Alliance. “There are a lot of young people in this room tonight who are part of this great industry, please understand how special it is and take full advantage of all it has to offer, especially the platform to impact the lives of others. And you’ve always got to be on your best behavior, just as an aside.”
Kraft, and many others, used their positions to pressure the courts for his release and sentencing reform. Today, Meek Mill is a free man and he and Kraft have a deep friendship.
“I want to say thank you to Robert Kraft. He took a risk that was really unusual, a wealthy sports owner with a young kid from the ghetto that’s a rapper, you actually gave me the motivation and inspiration to continue reform and go harder for my own people that come up behind me that don’t have a voice,” Meek Mill reportedly said at the awards gala.
Naturally, a major sports award gathering wouldn’t be complete without someone roasting the recipient. That’s why they brought out former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to say a few words. Eli upended the Patriots’ near-perfect season by beating the team in the Super Bowl. His brother, Payton, was also a competitive thorn in Kraft’s side over the years.
“My mom, Olivia, sends her apologies,” Eli reportedly said. “She said that if it weren’t for her that Bob Kraft would have at least 10 Super Bowls.”
Given the culture the New England native embedded in the organization, there’s no reason the Patriots cannot win 10 championships.