NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has wide-ranging powers to discipline teams, coaches, players, and, yes, owners.
Pending the completion of police investigations in Florida — and likely a league inquiry as well — Goodell could punish New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute.
The 77-year-old Kraft was twice videotaped in a sex act at a shopping-center massage parlor in Florida, police said Friday. The charges come amid a crackdown on sex trafficking in which hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued.
Under the NFL’s personal conduct policy that states “ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline,” Goodell could fine and/or suspend Kraft from any activities involving the Super Bowl champions.
“It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime,” the policy says. “We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”
Kraft has been accused of misdemeanor charges and might not be required to perform more than community service and attend a course on the harmful effects of prostitution and sex trafficking. Goodell will be judging whether this was “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.
He’s made many such judgments before — including fining Kraft and the Patriots $250,000 in 2007 for filming other teams’ signals, and $1 million in 2014 for deflating footballs during the AFC title game. The “Deflategate” case damaged Goodell’s close relationship with Kraft, one of his trusted advisers on many NFL matters, including labor and broadcast rights.
Even though Goodell is employed by the owners, at a cost of about $40 million annually in salary and bonuses, he views the commissioner’s role as one protective of the game and the league. If you embarrass “the shield,” you are punished.
So he doesn’t often hesitate to discipline wayward owners, basically penalizing his bosses.
Only one of them, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jim Irsay, has been suspended by Goodell, who replaced Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 2006. Irsay acknowledged having a painkiller addiction in 2002 and sought treatment. The DEA investigated, but local prosecutors did not file charges.
Then, in March 2014, Irsay was arrested near his home in suburban Carmel and was held overnight after he failed sobriety tests and police found prescription medications in his car. The police said the drugs were not associated with any of the prescription bottles found inside.
He was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, along with four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance; police also found $29,009 in cash. He again sought treatment and in September 2014 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated, agreeing to undergo drug testing for a year. Irsay also acknowledged he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone when he was arrested.
Irsay drew a six-game suspension and $500,000 fine from Goodell.
Last year, Jerry Richardson essentially was forced to sell the Carolina Panthers after allegations surfaced of his sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace. Following a six-month investigation by the league, he was fined $2.7 million by Goodell. Richardson, like Kraft, was a confidant of Goodell’s on league business matters.
In 2012, following a long investigation into the New Orleans Saints’ bounties system, Goodell fined Saints owner Tom Benson $500,000 and stripped the team of second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. But that was for an on-field issue — as was Kraft’s fine for deflated footballs.
The current Kraft case, of course, has nothing to do with NFL play. It has plenty to do with Goodell’s use of his disciplinary powers, and there will be a spotlight shining brightly on whatever decisions he makes.