Holding the Patriots Accountable

I was scrolling through Instagram on Friday afternoon when across my screen came the words “BREAKING NEWS” with Robert Kraft’s droopy face smack dab in the middle. I quickly discovered that Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, was being charged with solicitation of prostitution. Kraft is implicated in a sex trafficking probe — authorities discovered that he visited a Florida spa in which women were held against their will in an alleged sex trafficking ring. The Martin County Sherriff William Snyder remarked in a CNN article, “I would contend today that it’s the men in the shadows that are the monsters in this equation. And without moralizing, none of this would happen if those men were not availing themselves and participating in this human misery.” The first thing that popped into my mind was a juvenile desire to hold this newfound information over the numerous smug Patriots fans I see walking about campus. I thought, “Yeah! One more questionable circumstance on a long list that makes the Patriots a supremely suspect organization!!”

And I do have a point. The Patriots have legitimately cheated several times throughout their “illustrious” history: most notably in 2007 with Spygate, and in 2015 with Deflategate. In 2007, the Patriots were accused of filming one of the New York Jets’ coaches during a game. In 2015, the NFL found that somebody on the Patriots staff intentionally deflated the game balls Tom Brady used. Good old Tom was suspended from four games as a result. This beloved quarterback, whom New England fans proudly proclaim the GOAT, is also good friends with President Donald Trump (along with infallible leader Robert Kraft).

Last time I checked, Trump was public enemy number one in New England. Last time I checked, cheating was a no-no. Last time I checked, most New Englanders didn’t stand for the idea of rich old white men doing whatever they wanted. Sure, I can be a little sympathetic. We all love winning, right? But enough is enough.

To the insecure, defensive Patriots groupie, I am not writing this as a “fuck you” to all the fans that get under my skin. If thinking my argument is that simple and petty makes you feel better, go ahead. Instead, I genuinely want to reflect on the paradox between seemingly liberal New England tenets and this beloved football team’s inextricable connections with cringy, despicable values.

If anything, Patriots fans should be flattered. I think you all are too good, too woke. Can’t you see that it’s impossible to support the Patriots without, to some degree, turning a blind eye to shady behavior? And yes, it’s hard to emphasize a purely moral argument to this devoted fanbase. Patriots fans don’t want to hear that their team cheated. Patriots fans don’t want to become inflamed by Tom Brady’s bland politics. No, Tom, it’s unacceptable that you say in respect to Trump, “It’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to accomplish.” Patriots fans certainly don’t want to connect owner Robert Kraft’s questionable actions to their franchise winning its sixth Super Bowl. But they should. I think that all fans (especially Patriots enthusiasts) have a responsibility to acknowledge the baggage that comes with their professional sports teams. New England’s values and politics stand for too much in our country to have these confounding contradictions.

Ultimately, this raises a bigger issue about the ethics of professional sports and a clear disjointedness between owners, players and fans. NFL owners in particular are notorious for drawing the ire of their employees. The manner in which they dealt — or neglected to deal — with the national anthem protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick this past year isa clear indication of this. Nonetheless, I believe that New England has what it takes to be a devoted fan base while holding its own teams accountable for their immoral actions. It can be a leader in this regard. Right now, however, — at least at Amherst College — Patriots fans come across as obnoxious, overly-defensive hypocrites who revel in victory and meekly disregard legitimate controversy.