SBD/July 26, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

The NFL Goes Back To Work: Robert Kraft Seen As Key Figure For Deal Getting Done

Kraft led owners in CBA talks despite wife's struggle with cancer
NFL and NFLPA officials involved with the negotiations for the new 10-year CBA lauded Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "for his behind-the-scenes help in producing the breakthrough," according to a front-page piece by Greg Bedard of the BOSTON GLOBE. Kraft helped create a "smaller group of negotiators -- without lawyers -- that made progress on difficult issues." He gave NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith a "ride on his private jet en route to a round of talks, helping the two forge a bond," and Kraft "wasn’t afraid to tell his fellow owners when they were wrong on an issue to help push things forward." Giants President & CEO John Mara said, "We needed him in this process because when he gets up in the room, people listen to him. ... He had a tremendous influence over this whole process. I don’t really think we would have been standing out in front of the union headquarters announcing this deal if he had not been involved." Ravens CB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Domonique Foxworth, who played a key role in the players' side in the deal, said of Kraft, "I’d say that he was the single biggest player on their side. Without him, someone else would have needed to step up and I don’t know that someone would have" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/26). In Boston, Ian Rapoport notes Kraft "spent the last few months at the forefront of the labor deal, while also tending" to his wife, Myra, who passed away last week. As Myra "battled cancer, Kraft traveled back and forth between his wife and his football." Smith yesterday told Kraft, "We couldn’t have done it without you. I’m thankful for what (Myra) meant to the city of Boston. I’m especially thankful for what you mean to the game of football" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/26).

LEADER OF THE PACK: The AP's Jim Litke writes the lockout -- "at last -- has a hero" in Kraft. He is "hardly the only guy who deserves credit" for ending the lockout, but there "was a reason his was the name people on both sides of the labor divide kept coming back to while the TV cameras rolled" during yesterday's formal announcement. Those involved in the negotiations "knew something about his wife, and grew to understand what the Krafts meant to each other." That is why "so many of the bargaining sessions were held in the Northeast corridor -- close to Kraft's base in Boston -- but also why Kraft's presence at most of them strengthened the resolve on both sides to get a deal done" (AP, 7/26). Author John Feinstein said Kraft "was the voice of reason, going back to last season saying there was no reason not to get this done." Feinstein: "If there is a hero in this thing from the owners side of it, it should be Bob Kraft” ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 7/25). In Providence, Jim Donaldson writes under the header, "Kraft Saves Football -- Again." The Patriots owner "has proven to be an exceptional person," and is "deserving of the utmost respect for his unstinting efforts at a time when his emotions had to be rubbed raw" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 7/26).

HOW THE TALKS GOT KICK STARTED: NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Smith "reached out" to Kraft on May 31 and asked for a "one-on-one meeting the night before full-scale talks were to begin" in Chicago in order for the two to "feel out the position of the other party." Kraft indicated that he "couldn't negotiate in exactly" that manner. However, he said, "You get a player, and I'll get the commissioner, and we'll talk." Breer noted that meeting "paved the way for two productive sets of talks between owners and players to follow June 1 and 2." It was those days that "served as a launching pad for the progress to come over the next seven weeks, culminating in Monday's settlement agreement" (NFL.com, 7/25). Giants President & CEO John Mara said, "We really started to make some progress over the last five or six weeks. Particularly when we started meeting with the players, just owners and players without any lawyers in the room, that is when we started to make some progress. I think we built up a trust factor there and mutual respect and started moving on some of these issues" ("Francesa," WFAN-AM, 7/25).

EXPANDING HIS LEGACY
: ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss wrote Kraft's "mark on football powerfully extended beyond the New England region in which he is already revered by many." His influence has "grown steadily since he purchased the team in 1994, to the point he is now considered one of the NFL's most powerful and influential owners," and that standing "was strengthened Monday, highlighting his ability to build bridges with players." Kraft multiple times said that the "key in labor talks was getting lawyers out of the negotiating room, and his ability to generate trust among players was considered a key reason a deal happened." Helping to end the lockout "will be a major part of Kraft's football legacy" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 7/25). WEEI-AM's John Dennis said of Kraft, "Don’t you get the sense that that legacy has expanded to the entire league ... and don't you get the sense that that legacy of somebody who gets things done in a positive way now has permeated the other 31 teams in this league?” WEEI's Gerry Callahan said when details come out about the behind-the-scenes dynamics in the CBA talks, Kraft’s role "will be even more amazing and impressive." Callahan: "The players were giving him credit was something I didn't expect” ("The Dennis & Callahan Morning Show," NESN, 7/26).

TRIUMPH AMID TRAGEDY: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez wrote Kraft and Colts C Jeff Saturday, a key member of the NFLPA's negotiating team, "stole the spotlight" during yesterday's press conference announcing an agreement. Kraft's appearance "was a surprise" following Myra's death last week, and Saturday offered a "thank you to his wife for her patience with his role as an NFLPA leader." Saturday then "turned to his right and stared directly at Kraft." He said, "I don’t want to be (dramatic) in any way. But he’s a man who helped save football.” Marvez noted, "As Saturday concluded, Kraft’s head was bowed as he tried to maintain composure. The two then hugged in an embrace that put a human touch on what was a cold bargaining process" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/25). In Chicago, Sean Jensen writes the Kraft-Saturday exchange "seemed a fitting snapshot of how far players and owners have come in four-plus months to end the lockout and take a significant step toward sparing everyone involved from the backlash for sidelining the country’s most popular sport" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 7/26). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes Saturday "wrapping his paws around the shoulders" of Kraft was "just the sort of portrait that was needed at the conclusion of this long and mostly contentious fight" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/26). In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell: "An emotional hug sealed the deal and spoke volumes" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/26). In Boston, Karen Guregian: "A truly classy move by the Colts center" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/26). ESPN's Mike Greenberg: "At the end of the day you’re going to forget about most of the players in this, the people who made this happen. ... That’s a moment you won’t forget” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 7/26).

TWITTER REAX: The Washington Post’s Mark Maske wrote on his Twitter feed, “Jeff Saturday and Bob Kraft hugging today, after Saturday's praise for Kraft and his family, was a classy, genuine moment.” ESPN’s Stuart Scott wrote, “I love class/dignity. It's why I loved Jeff Saturday hugging Pats owner Robert Kraft. Colts/patriots ‘respect.’ Mr. Kraft..Thank you!!” ESPN’s Amy Nelson: “That moment between Jeff Saturday and Robert Kraft was both touching & heartbreaking.” Giants VP/Communications Pat Hanlon: “Great job by Jeff Saturday and De Smith in acknowledging Bob Kraft's role in this process and paying tribute to Myra Kraft and their family.” The Boston Globe’s Shalise Manza Young: “Face it, Patriots fans: you now have to love a Colt after Jeff Saturday's classy comments on the Kraft family.”

OTHERS LENDING A HELPING HAND: Broncos President Joe Ellis yesterday discussed team Owner Pat Bowlen's role in the CBA negotiations and said, "He was on every call, running back and forth from his office to my office, quite animated in many of those conversations. He’s been heavily involved, but he’s elected to step back from the spotlight and do these kind of things behind the scenes" (DENVERPOST.com, 7/25). In Pittsburgh, Ed Bouchette notes Steelers President Art Rooney II "downplayed his involvement in helping craft the 10-year agreement," but a source indicated that his role was "significant" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/26). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes Chiefs Chair Clark Hunt's "part in the lockout's conclusion is his most significant accomplishment in five years of running" the franchise. Hunt "felt an obligation to join Steelers president Art Rooney in leading the passing of the supplemental revenue sharing plan that is especially crucial in small-money markets" (K.C. STAR, 7/26).
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