New England Patriots’ Owner, Still Sore at N.F.L., Has Payback in Sight
Kraft is still a very hands-on owner, but three of his sons have taken on greater responsibilities with the Patriots and the family’s portfolio of company investments, including a Major League Soccer team, the New England Revolution.
More and more, Kraft said, he is focusing on strategizing and bringing people together. Like Arabs and Jews.
He has sought to broker Middle East conciliation through sports and investments, citing economic interdependence as a unifying agent. Several years ago, Kraft, who is Jewish, operated a packaging company that employed Israelis and Palestinians. He has taken dozens of Christian friends to Israel, including Brady and, in 2015, 19 former N.F.L. players, some of whom were baptized in the Jordan River.
Still, though he often portrays himself as a unifier, some people — or teams — do irk him. Like the Indianapolis Colts.
During halftime in a victory over the Miami Dolphins last season, while praising Willie McGinest, a linebacker inducted into the team’s hall of fame that night, Kraft made sure to point out that McGinest was on teams that beat the Colts 16 times in 12 seasons. It was seven months after the Colts first suggested that New England used underinflated balls in the A.F.C. Championship game they lost, 45-7.
McGinest said he understood how Kraft could still be offended.
“When you take away from somebody’s hard work or everything that goes into winning those types of games, it’s pretty upsetting,” said McGinest, now an analyst for NFL Network. “That’s his baby. Those players are all his. That team, it’s his baby.”
At the Patriots, Kraft — and, before her death from cancer in 2011, his wife, Myra — has had a reputation for forming lasting relationships with his players and engaging in conversations with them beyond football.
The Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin grew close to the Krafts during his three seasons in New England. Martin, who identifies as a Christian, spent some Jewish holidays with the Krafts and so grew to love chicken soup served by Myra Kraft that she would give some to her husband to place in Martin’s locker.
“I didn’t deem it as normal,” Martin, who also traveled to Israel with Kraft, said in a telephone interview. “I thought it was something that was very rare.”
Now a businessman himself, Martin cherishes the day during his rookie season, in 1995, when Kraft invited him to a cardboard-box plant he owned.
“Everything has a process to it,” Martin said, explaining the lesson he learned. “And when you neglect the process, you ultimately neglect your ability to be successful at whatever you’re striving for. That’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Kraft, former players say, is a regular presence in the locker room, where front-office personnel rarely tread, greeting players, even those who are not stars, by name. Sometimes, he can show a playful, self-deprecating side.
During receiver Donté Stallworth’s first stint in New England, in 2007, he and Randy Moss were leaving the cafeteria on their way to the receivers meeting room when Kraft stopped them in the hallway and handed them a manila folder. Opening it, Moss and Stallworth burst into laughter: Inside was a photograph of Kraft and the rapper 50 Cent sipping mai tais on a beach.
“I know you two young men are pretty cool and you guys are young studs,” Kraft told them, according to Stallworth. “I’m an old guy, but I’m not too bad myself.”
Stallworth added: “He doesn’t walk around like he owns the place, even though he does.”
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