Navigate to Arts & Letters section

Kraft’s Sabbath

Judging a rich man’s sins, in a world that thrives on outrage, humiliation, and fake virtue

Matthew Fishbane
February 25, 2019
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
'Call me a cynic but human beings disappointing us is not really front page news.' Robert Kraft, New Orleans, 2017.Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
'Call me a cynic but human beings disappointing us is not really front page news.' Robert Kraft, New Orleans, 2017.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“Robert!!! Kraft!!!!” Email subject line from Editor-in-Chief.

Back to another age two weeks before, eons ago, when Colin Kaepernick’s lawyer had announced that he could imagine two or three teams signing him to play quarterback again, and the Patriots, Super Bowl champions, were one of them. The EIC, who watches zero football but has a professional interest in prominent Jews, had walked into my office a few days before to ask, “Why doesn’t Kraft sign him?” meaning Kaepernick, and I had to explain why the Patriots don’t really need a QB right now, what with six rings and the guy who got them those six rings repeating often that yes he means it when he says he wants to play until he’s 45, three to four years from now, Gisele’s thoughts on it be damned.

Anyway, EIC felt vindicated by the report. Bob Kraft, he of the Meek Mill, he of prison reform and the cause of Israel, he of the yeshiva, Columbia grad, Pittsburgh empathizer in chief, capital P Philanthropist, he would be the one to, OK, yes, heal the world. Sign the Anthem Kneeler, the Trump antagonist, bring him back into the fold from the wilds of his Sacrifice Everything billboard. The guy can still play, they say. Right the obvious wrong that stifled a professional athlete who happens to express his political views.

That was several outrage cycles ago. A busted-up prostitution and sex-trafficking ring in the sinking karst pools of Florida snared a hundred men, nabbed a number of Chinese madams, and enslaved dozens of unsuspecting Asian women, right here in America, my gawd. On the Twitter video loop of network-affiliate live TV news of the Jupiter, Florida, police, you can hear a reporter ask off-screen, “Is that Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots?” and the uniformed cop answering, “We’re as equally stunned as everybody else.” A human-trafficking ring in the Floridian banana pararepublic would be local news at best, but the owner of the New England Patriots is here, and we’re down the bayou from Mar-a-Lago, and so it “goes viral.”

I grew my Patriots fandom as a boy, I declared it and stuck with it through all the previous scandals and pseudoscandals. And because I’m otherwise relatively private (no Facebook, no MyFace, gave up the Twitters), for a number of folks in my secondary orbit it’s my defining feature. That guy loves the Patriots. Big Football Fan. Don’t talk to him, they lost last night. I’m fine with that. Think of me how you will. I wear a T-shirt that I made that reads “I ENJOY WATCHING FOOTBALL.” It gets comments at the sports bar and a nod or two. I owe The Onion for the sensibility. But I do enjoy watching football. Apparently I’m not alone in that.

And what is Kraft to me? I’ve never met the guy but as the undeniably successful owner of my football team, he represented some kind of great-uncle figure, diligent, loving, and demanding in familiar ways, confounding in his politics, a Jew who bet on America only to have its worst expression tear him down at the first opportunity.

So, now the emails come in to me, midday Friday, literally minutes after the announcement. From my father, a lifetime Pats fan, poor guy: “are you catching this?” From a co-worker: “How you holdin’ up?” From a friend, a text: “He’s Krafty! / He gets around / He’s Krafty! / He’s always down!” followed by three emojis reading [lips] [money bag] [eggplant]. And so on.

The EIC texts, this time “Oh God Kraft.” I am at the same moment picking up her Kaepernick email thread and typing to her “Welp,” with a link to the breakingest of breaking stories—ROBERT KRAFT SOMETHING SOMETHING PROSTITUTION. You can practically hear the desk editor in an open-plan office in New York shouting at a desk-journo-intern to GET SOMETHING UP, STAT. The clicks are clicking, the clicks will go to another “media outlet” if you don’t have your flag planted. EIC answers, “yes I texted you,” by email. Tag. I saw it. Yes. Kraft busted at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter. There’s video of it, they say. As first reported by USA Today’s Treasure Coast Newspapers of Palm Beach County.

My father thinks Trump is to blame: “another fine example of everything schtroumpf touches turns to shit,” he writes. The other texting friend gave up watching football after Deflategate and took a Brooklynish moral-high-ground position on brain murder and such. He’s holier than thou now but fuck him, he’s also a gentrifier. No one’s perfect. I enjoy watching football.

And at least we can all agree that the New York tabloids should have a field day with it. Sadly they have to endure some 18 hours before their ink hits their pages, so slow compared to the Instagrams, which has a random old picture of Bob Kraft driving a car with the window down and the caption, “Get in loser, we’re going to pay for hand jobs.” Liked by 30,638 (at the time), and forwarded to me via texted screenshot. I reply with a screen grab of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa Yelp page, which has been flooded with gleefully hate-mobbing reviews, 5 stars for “really knowing how to kraft a good massage,” get it? The Wall Street Journal quotes a Patriots spokesman saying, “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity.”

Go online, anywhere, and the stuff comes at you. Here’s a Giants fan, he’s wet still from the pool or beach in Jupiter but he had his Giants T-shirt on, or he went and got it, and he drove himself over to the Asian Orchid Day Spa—or was it Orchids of Asia?—and had someone take his picture pointing at his shirt (whose subtext is, “I enjoy watching football”) and at the sign above the entrance to the massage parlor where Robert Kraft allegedly got a sexual massage, and now this guy’s on the Daily Mail.

The former football fan, the Brooklyn lib, at least he’s old-school enough to still appreciate a good Post pun and so we place bets on how the tabloids might play it on Saturday. Sack Fumble. Illegal Procedure. I think I hit on it with SEX RINGS, but it’s too many steps from there to the six Lombardi trophies and it suggests maybe a toy, not a human tragedy. PATRIOT CAME is good but too vulgar even for Murdoch. Then I wonder how long until Patriot Came is a headline that is acceptable to the New York Post, which I realize is oddly now a bastion of propriety and decorum in New York cultural circles. Despite the tabloid tawdriness of the charges, and the high profile of the charged, the headline does not write itself. Is that because maybe the crime here has nothing to do with Bob, and sex trafficking is no joke?

I suggest HAPPY ENDING. Because it’s a happy ending to the so-called and seemingly unending “Patriots dynasty” for New York’s Jets and Giants fans, who, let’s face it, are all, as they say, jackin’ it to the news today. Because that’s what this is about: This is about masturbation. Bob Kraft’s alleged masturbation by an unfortunate Asian slave. The masturbation of hundreds of other men who visited Asian Orchids of Asia Day Spa and the other rub-n-tugs in Jupiter, on Mars, and in just about every godforsaken Sodom and Gomorrah on the planet. And all of it compounded by the masturbatory pile-on of individuals at their computer screens and phones and other glowing rectangles, alone, imagining themselves to be telling that billionaire off, laughing in his face—yes, what a release! Poor schlubs everywhere now more powerful even than the most powerful owner of the biggest sports league in America, a friend to Donald Trump no less! HAHAHAHAHA SUCK IT ROBERT KRAFT! I AM A GIANTS FAN AND A GIANT AND I’M STANDING HERE WHERE YOU GOT A HAPPY ENDING, WEARING MY GIANTS SHIRT! With such a lynch mob’s glee.

This is the Internet now—a circle jerk of humiliation.


Let me apologize, because apologizing is the spirit of the age, and because I’m bound to offend someone here. I surely already have. And I should also reiterate my outrage, MY ALL-CAPS OUTRAGE, at the abomination that is human trafficking, and at the johns who are the demand to fuel that supply, and Jesus can’t we get our shit together and save these women (and men and boys and girls) from the global scourge of bondage? Even for the libbest of libs, legalization of prostitution only works if it includes safeguards to ensure that sex workers are in complete control of their bodies and their volition, and beholden to no one but their sacrosanct selves, owners of their business. Beyond that is some form of barbaric libertarianism. So let me be clear: Sex trafficking is horrible and we must do all we can to remove it from the world, including not visiting places of business where the employees have been trafficked. Even—especially—if you’re a billionaire.

But you know what? Beyond that I can’t really get mad at Bob Kraft. I know I’m supposed to summon the Outrage, but the only outrage I can find is against America right now, and against the Internet that is making it into what it is. You go get whatever kind of hand job you want, Mr. Kraft. Next time do it with a consenting and safe adult. But you’re 77. G’bless you, man. The mind is an incredible place, and our wants and desires and needs run the gamut from the ethereal (and perhaps payment-deferred) pleasures of total abstinence to the kinkiest earthly depravity, which I don’t need to enumerate because every adult reading this can reach into their own brains to find examples of it. (Even you, Mike Pence.)

Did you royally screw the pooch by going to a trashy strip-mall joint that happened to be at the center of a trafficking sting? Absolutely. Even if it was a short drive from your house. And would it be specifically wrong of you to go to a massage parlor to seek something besides a massage? Again, yes. But fuck if I’m going to throw you out in the hinterlands of moral condemnation for wanting to get some physical pleasure and a few seconds of blackout relief from the human condition. Is paying for it the sin? I’m not sure. Maybe. OK, yes. I don’t know. Let us consult Philip Roth. He knows something about Jewish lust. This is Sabbath’s Theater, and Mickey here is huffing on your daughter’s underwear! Dude, this other guy over here, he’s fucking a liver! OK, yeah, it’s not about the money, except that Kraft and a very few others have lots of it and the rest of us don’t.

Meanwhile, our president serves Big Macs to the winning collegiate football team, on Lincoln’s silver. And lest you thought this a symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome, I remind you that Bill Clinton pushed a cigar into one of his interns, and then removed it, lit it, and smoked it. Or as I told my father, “Call me a cynic but human beings disappointing us is not really front page news.”

By the time Saturday rolled around, eons later, the stupid Internet had moved on. It was clear the tabloids had dropped the ball, butterfingered an easy Pick 6. The Post went with “Inflate Gate,” which in all sincerity I don’t even understand. I get that it’s supposed to reference the ball-deflation scandal that kept the Outrage Fire lit in a certain sports-world dumpster for months. Or is it a penis-pump joke? Because he’s old? Come on, man. C- at best. D, more like. The Daily News went with “Kraft American Sleaze,” which beats the Post by a mile but is still a B. If our Kraft here had anything to do with the company that makes plastic squares of pasteurized processed cheese food, it would have been a win. But they abandoned their rigor and said, “close enough.” That’s where we are. In fact, I’m really angry about this. OLD NEW YORK TABLOIDS CAN’T GET IT UP ANYMORE. I’d tweet that if I still had an account.

Or maybe the American Sleaze is us. We’re all Uncle Bob now, lost souls driving around the strip mall of America in search of a happy ending.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Matthew Fishbane is Creative Director at Tablet magazine.