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How will the NFL handle the charges against Patriots owner Robert Kraft?

New England’s owner will be charged with solicitation of prostitution by Florida police.

New England Patriots v Oakland Raiders Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

On Friday afternoon, news broke that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged on two accounts of solicitation of prostitution stemming from a months-long operation into a South Florida massage parlor. The story coming out went beyond Kraft’s alleged involvement and also included sex trafficking and arrest warrants for a total of up to 175 people with ties to the situation one way or another.

Kraft was the biggest name released in the initial wave by law enforcement and grabbed all the headlines, despite the human trafficking also mentioned actually being the much bigger and far grimmer story at hand. How the Patriots owner exactly fits into all of this remains to be seen — as noted above, he is being charged for solicitation but denied any illegal involvement in a statement released — but the NFL already noted that it will take a close look at the matter.

In fact, the league released two statements. On Friday, it wrote that it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.” Three days later, a more comprehensive statement was put out by the NFL:

Our Personal Conduct Policy applies equally to everyone in the NFL. We will handle this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the Policy. We are seeking a full understanding of the facts, while ensuring that we do not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. We will take appropriate action as warranted based on the facts.

With all that in mind, the question becomes how the league will handle the charges brought forward against Robert Kraft. According to Michael McCann, an attorney who also serves as a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, the league might simply play it as safe as possible and wait with a response or potential punishment until a resolution to the criminal case against New England’s owner has concluded.

How such a punishment if indeed brought upon the 77-year-old will look like depends on the severity of his offenses in the eyes of the league and its personal conduct policy. As McCann notes, commissioner Roger Goodell is empowered by the league’s constitution to hand down a suspension or fine up to $500,000 for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football”

However, as McCann pointed out, any fine going beyond that should not be expected. “As to possible loss of draft picks for the Patriots over Kraft’s alleged misconduct, don’t expect that to happen,” he writes. “Article VIII contemplates the loss of draft picks as suitable when misconduct ‘affects the competitive aspects of the game.’ Personal misbehavior by an owner is unrelated to the competitive aspects of the game.”

“In addition, a loss of draft picks penalty would arguably seem misplaced given the nature of the accusation,” continued McCann. What appears more likely, according to the legal expert, is a suspension and/or fine as well as a possible banishment — either temporarily or permanently — from NFL committees. In 2018, Kraft was a member of five of the league’s committees, including the media committee which he chaired.

Of course, there has also been unfounded speculation whether or not the NFL could force Kraft out of owning the Patriots. In order for that to happen, a minimum of 23 of the 31 franchise’s principal owners would have to vote for a resolution to remove Kraft from running the team under Article VIII of the league’s constitution. However, McCann does not see such a move happening.

“It is extremely unlikely that 23 owners would vote out Kraft over a misdemeanor offense,” he noted. “Owners would likely find such a punishment excessive in light of the absence of prior examples of owners being voted out. Likewise, owners would be worried about precedent — if Kraft could lose his team over (allegedly) solicitation of sex, other owners could lose their team over offenses of similar magnitude.”

Based on the charges presented by Florida police on Friday, Kraft — if found guilty by the NFL’s powers — therefore appears to be looking at a fine and maybe a suspension. But unless something drastically changes the picture as it has been presented so far, don’t expect the Patriots’ football operations to be hit with any penalties.