Robert Kraft's Meek Mill visit puts both of NFL owners' two faces on display

There is no end in sight for the contradictions in play among the NFL owners, players and de facto-ex-players. Exhibit No. 3,697,402 (approximate, dating back to 2016): Robert Kraft visiting Meek Mill in prison.

Robert Kraft's Meek Mill visit puts both of NFL owners' two faces on display

Robert Kraft's Meek Mill visit puts both of NFL owners' two faces on display

At one, important level, the trip by the Patriots owner to the imprisoned rapper fits neatly into his recent history, and it illuminates the work of the Players Coalition over the past year-plus. A straight line can be drawn from players like Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and Devin McCourty — even before it was officially labeled a coalition — advocating for sentencing reform, to directly engaging politicians, to pushing owners to back them up, to Kraft turning words into actions.

When Kraft stood with 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin and spoke to reporters Tuesday (as recorded by NBC Philadelphia), Kraft credited the players with helping steer him on the path that eventually put him on the prison steps.

"I guess for me — I know some of our players in the NFL have talked about this (issue), and I see it first-hand that it's just wrong, and we have to find a way to correct it and to help the community help themselves …" He paused, and added, "It's just sad."

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Back in February, Kraft and his son, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, co-authored a Boston Globe op-ed pushing for juvenile justice reform. At a criminal justice reform symposium at Harvard Law School last month attended by several NFL players, McCourty told a panel that the younger Kraft said to him, "My family has owned the Patriots, I've done well, great upbringing, (but) I had no idea about some of the things that went on."

McCourty continued: "I think it's why I got involved in the Players Coalition and to have a presence. Obviously we don’t know all the information and we’re not the brightest people in the room, but I think because of our platform, we get to elevate all the people around us so we make sure everyone hears it."

Kraft’s trip, for all the wisecracks it inspired (after all, the Eagles team that beat his in the Super Bowl took the field in Minneapolis to a Meek Mill song), is an encouraging outgrowth of the players' activism.

The owners, then, hear what the players are talking about. They get it. They’re not in the dark, confused, misinformed or distracted about the players' issues and causes or about the motivations for their actions.

However …

Several of those same owners haven’t even been reluctant or reticent about their abject refusal to budge over players protesting during the national anthem. Not even a full day after Kraft's Meek Mill visit and his praise of the players’ advocacy came the news of the Bengals’ attempt to strong-arm free agent Eric Reid into backing down from kneeling during the anthem.

Which, again, follows the unambiguous statements from Bob McNair and Stephen Ross earlier in the offseason, not to mention the reported debates at the recent owners meetings between those who wanted strict prohibitions on protesting and those who did not.

MORE: Players Coalition agrees on Reid, Kaepernick topics

And amid all that is the obvious rift between the Players Coalition leaders and Reid, Colin Kaepernick and others, going back to the midseason meetings with the owners. McCourty addressed that last month, too, essentially saying the players all wanted the same thing but through different means.

The split among players is not inconsequential. The lockstep of the owners, though, carries far bigger consequences. So does the cognitive dissonance between their community outreach and their continued suppression of certain players.

The owners put on a show of support and understanding. They undermine it exactly the same way others in society undermine it: the time-honored deflection of, "I agree with your point, but not with your method of making it."

Simply put: The owners can't pretend they don’t know why players were kneeling, and they can't keep telling the lie that it was about anything other than the same issues that inspired Kraft to visit a prison and he and his son to write an op-ed.

If Kraft is powerful enough to bring eyeballs to Meek Mill’s sentencing, he’s powerful enough to end the blackballing of Kaepernick and Reid. He and the owners have chosen one, and not the other.

Why trust their commitment to the one while they stand their ground against the other?

Meek Mill has the attention and support of an NFL owner. Kaepernick and Reid, actual NFL players rather than NFL intro music, must be wondering when their turns will come.

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