It’s been 15 years since Patriots owner Robert Kraft publicly called upon the Massachusetts legislature to reject a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Along with other prominent power brokers, the leader of the NFL’s greatest dynasty signed onto an ad affirming his support for two gay people to marry.
This was nine years before marriage equality was the law of the land, and long before the NFL started turning its iconic shield rainbow for Pride Month. But Kraft has always made supporting the LGBTQ community one of his organization’s top priorities.
Way back in 2003, the Patriots sent all-time great Andre Tippett to officiate the ceremonial coin toss at the Boston Gay Bowl, the yearly championship for the National Gay Flag Football League. When the tournament returned to Boston in 2017, the Patriots sponsored the hallmark event, becoming the first NFL team to do so.
New England was also the only NFL club to sign an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage in 2015.
Josh Kraft, who serves as president of the New England Patriots Foundation, says standing up for LGBTQ rights embodies his family’s core philanthropic values of inclusivity and acceptance. It’s a cause his mother, Myra, who died from ovarian cancer in 2011, was especially passionate about.
“We’re doing the best we can to be great allies, but we’re aspiring to be the best advocates as possible for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Kraft. “We just have — whether it’s religious, ethnic, sexual orientation differences — we’re all the same people.”
In a sports-crazed region, the Patriots are a culturally dominant force, with their influence spreading far beyond Gillette Stadium. When “Flying Elvis” is plastered next to an insignia for an LGBTQ flag football tournament, it’s a stamp of approval from the most beloved entity in Massachusetts.
As a veteran player in Boston’s FLAG Flag Football league, I will say: It’s pretty cool to see the Patriots’ emblem on the back of our jerseys right next to logos for Club Cafe and Blend, where I often dance the night away in my cutest 5-inch inseams.
The Patriots are planning to have a presence at the league’s kick-off next fall. They’ve sponsored Boston’s and Providence’s LGBTQ flag football leagues for the last several seasons.
“It’s all about building bridges and connecting with people, no matter how they are different,” said Josh Kraft. “That’s real important to the family.”
When offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan publicly came out in 2017, he says Robert Kraft made him feel like a member of his family. In his biography with our Cyd Zeigler, “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life,” the former Patriots tackle recounts how Kraft called him to his office during a reception that summer.
“Spending a few minutes privately with Mr. Kraft in his office is surreal,” O’Callaghan wrote. “For (Kraft), who opens up to me about a gay friend, I am the most important person in the world in those few moments. Given where I have been in the previous dozen years, he is equally the most important person in the world for me right then and there.”
Robert Kraft is maybe the most influential owner in the NFL. His embrace of O’Callaghan shows you can play professional football and be openly gay.
It is one powerful gesture.
With hate crimes against LGBTQ people on the rise — last year set a new record of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S. — the Krafts are steadfast about their commitment to uplifting the most marginalized members of the community.
The Krafts also own the New England Revolution, and they are set to celebrate Pride Night at Gillette on June 23. The team will be flying the Progress Flag, which features Black and Brown stripes to represent people of color and light blue, pink and white stripes to honor transgender people.
As the LGBTQ rights movement keeps evolving, the Krafts remain at the front of the line.
“It’s important to continue to build bridges with everyone,” Kraft said. “My personal view: It’s so much easier to reach out and build bridges than it is to spend your time resenting and creating animosity.”