‘I’m Robert Kraft. Do You Know Who I Am?’
In 2011, Kraft leveraged his relationship with Netanyahu to help Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP) broker a deal with El Al to get a daily nonstop flight between Israel and Boston. Patrick regularly asked Kraft to check in with the prime minister to massage the deal along. Bill Swanson, MACP’s chair, lauds the Kraft go-for-it method: “He’s not an equivocator. He doesn’t put frosting on horse shit.”
Now Kraft cuts quite a presence in Israel. When a Massachusetts delegation headed by Patrick and Kraft was received in the Knesset that March, Patrick got a polite reception, but Robert’s welcome—“My very good friend,” gushed Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, “Robert ‘Bobby’ Kraft”—was far warmer.
Late one evening after dinner in Jerusalem, on a cold and damp night, Kraft said to Patrick, “Do you mind taking a walk? I want to show you something.” He took the governor to the Wailing Wall, where he explained the tradition of touching the wall, saying a prayer, and writing a supplication to slide between stones.
“Tikkun olam,” Patrick says, “the concept of healing the world. It is very personal to him.”
I ask Patrick why he seems so sure of that, and he says, “Because Kraft talks about it!” Patrick laughs, briefly, as if to say, Of course he talks about it. Certainly Kraft wants us to know how important healing the world is to him. “It goes back to Myra,” Patrick says. “It’s part of his reason for being on Earth.” This was Myra’s last trip to Israel; when she and Robert returned home, she went into the hospital and never recovered.
“We’re all complicated people,” Patrick says, reconciling the hardball Kraft with the spiritual Kraft. “I have some experience with public people—others put them in a box. Most people don’t fit in a box. Robert doesn’t fit in a box. He is a blend of hard-charging success and humility—it is a tough blend. But it’s not an illogical blend. People have more than one speed.”
In spite of his boundless giving, business acumen, and MACP standing, Kraft has seemed oddly inept at wielding power in his own city. It’s a story of endless frustration. In the ’90s, he thought Governor William Weld could help him get a football stadium in South Boston. Then Mayor Tom Menino stepped in and let fly, says someone close to Kraft: “‘You ain’t fucking letting anybody do any fucking thing in my fucking city.’ He riled up all of South Boston. It became a shit show.”
When the opportunity to build a downtown soccer venue came up again this year, so goes the scuttlebutt, Kraft resigned from the Boston 2024 Olympic board after a fight with chairman John Fish over whether the stadium would be temporary or permanent. Not true, Fish says; they were always conceived as two different stadiums. He says that Kraft stepped down to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Couldn’t Kraft have simply recused himself from any stadium discussion? “That’s an excellent question,” Fish says. “You’d have to ask him that.”
Maybe Kraft didn’t see the glory in being just another guy in Boston’s billionaire’s club: A source close to Kraft claims that he dropped out of the 2024 project because he “didn’t need his name on a committee in his hometown. Let all these others who want their name on it do it. They can call him if they need help.”
Suffice it to say, they didn’t. And we know how that ended up.
Something has changed since Myra’s death. We’ve seen unseemly stuff, like Kraft cavorting about with Ricki Noel Lander, a woman half his age. And how the family defends it. His son Jonathan told the press that the funk his father went into after Myra died was alarming, and that Myra “would be the first to say that he couldn’t function on his own, and I say that with a smile. My father is someone who needs companionship. From the time he was a junior in college, he and my mom were inseparable.”
And there was Kraft’s youngest son, David, complaining two years ago that a new family trust would keep the family fortune away from him. “My concern is that I’m being robbed blind,” he said in 2013 after a falling-out with Robert. The new trust, David said, was “one more way to keep it further from me and for my father to basically consolidate his grip to keep his control as long as he wants.”
But our deepest understanding of Kraft comes by examining what he so desperately needs us to see. Like the showcasing of this past June’s “Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence”—the trip for the 19 Hall of Fame football players.
They were carefully picked—any interested Hall of Famers had to write essays explaining why they wanted to go. Making the cut were former Patriots Andre Tippett, John Hannah, and Mike Haynes, along with Raymond Berry, Tim Brown, and Thurman Thomas. Their good fortune was noted by Kraft himself: “I don’t think there’s a better place that you can bring people no matter what their faith might be. They come here and their lives are changed.”
The group watched a scrimmage of the new Israeli national football team and then toured the Kraft Family Stadium, built by Kraft in 1999; they checked out high-tech innovation on a tour of Jerusalem businesses. But the real point was to have a spiritual awakening in the Holy Land: A dozen Gold Jackets, as the Hall of Famers are called, were rebaptized in the Jordan River.
At the Sunday-night dinner near the end of their trip, the players were asked to stand and share what their week in Israel had meant to them. First to testify was former Steeler Mel Blount, who got up in front of the film crew and said how the past week had changed his life. It was something of a soliloquy to Kraft.
Former Oakland Raider Tim Brown rose and said, “I’ve said bad things about the Patriots in the past. I’ll never say a bad thing about that man.” He pointed, heads turned in the direction of Kraft.
Then former Patriot Curtis Martin stood and spoke: “I thought I was going to die before I was 21,” he said. Now 42, Martin had had a very rough childhood. “And you guys took a chance on me…. I am at least 95 percent sure that you were a part of saving my life, Mr. Kraft…. You and your wife showed me love as a rookie…. I wasn’t even definitely going to start on the team, and Mr. Kraft is inviting me over to his house”—Martin was beginning to choke up, and the camera panned to Kraft, looking a little distraught in his dark blazer, his eyes glazing over, too—“chicken-noodle soup that [Myra] would make me—that was everything to me.”
The speech quickly went viral.
A couple of months later, Martin shared more, privately.
One day back in the ’90s, when Martin was still playing for the Patriots, Kraft picked him up after practice. They’d gotten to know each other a bit; Kraft was in the locker room often. They’d had heart-to-hearts. Now Kraft took him to a box-making factory he owned to show Martin how boxes were made.
Intense heat was applied to garbage to break it down. The point he was making, in showing Martin this, and the point Martin immediately grasped, was that it doesn’t matter where you start. Where you end up, that’s what matters.
“He was basically saying,” Martin explains, “you don’t have to come from a good place to fulfill a good purpose… In life, you usually come across that intense heat moment. Without intense heat, cardboard is never made. Apply that to life.”
The temperature, you might say, has been turned up on Robert Kraft the past few years as he negotiates the last act of his long life in the public eye. “How you navigate through that,” Martin says, “that’s what determines whether you’re going to be a success or a failure.”
Or perhaps it does something else. Perhaps the intense heat reveals exactly who you are.