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Patriots owner pledges $20 million to fight anti-Semitism

Thu Jun 20 4:42pm ET
By ARON HELLER
Associated Press

Players: Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Julian Edelman

JERUSALEM (AP) The owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, accepted Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize, known as the ''Jewish Nobel,'' at a lavish ceremony on Thursday, where he pledged $20 million to establish a foundation dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

In his keynote address at the gala, Kraft told the audience of Israeli and international dignitaries that he was ''humbled and blessed'' to accept the award, vowing that his new foundation would seek to tackle the rising tide of anti-Semitic vitriol online.

''I believe we can use this platform of social media to make a genuine and lasting impact on the rising tide of hate,'' he said, ''especially against our people.''

The feting and ritzy ceremony in his honor in Jerusalem offered Kraft a welcome reprieve just four months after he was charged with soliciting a prostitute at a Florida massage parlor. The 78-year-old billionaire businessman has vigorously battled the charges, and the case against him appears to be crumbling. He has pleaded innocent but also issued a written apology, expressing sorrow for hurting his family, friends and fans.

Still, the embarrassing affair appeared unlikely to tarnish the celebration of Kraft, a longtime supporter of Jewish and Israeli causes.

He was awarded the 2019 Genesis Prize in recognition of his philanthropy and consistent commitment to combating anti-Semitism. Organizers said his foundation would continue his efforts against anti-Semitism, as well as the Palestinian-led movement to boycott, divest from, and place sanctions on Israel, known as BDS, and ''other efforts to delegitimize Israel.''

The $1 million award is granted each year to a person recognized as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: ''"Israel does not have a more loyal friend than Robert Kraft.''

He welcomed what he called Kraft's stand against ''efforts by our enemies to undermine the State of Israel.''

Many supporters of BDS push back on its conflation with anti-Semitism, describing the campaign as a nonviolent protest against Israel's violations of Palestinian rights.

In his speech, Kraft stuck to safe talking points, elaborating on his love of football, strong connection to Israel and commitment to Judaism.

''These are most disconcerting times to the country I love so much,'' he said, lamenting that anti-Semitism appears to have gone mainstream. He pointed to the New York Times, a major news outlet, which recently ran a bigoted cartoon, and members of Congress tweeting what many have called anti-Semitic remarks. ''Social media is now a platform for hateful and vile rhetoric,'' he said.

Kraft described his deep bond to Israel, saying that he has led 27 missions and visited the country ''a hundred times'' since his honeymoon with his late wife in 1962. Kraft made no mention of the scandal during the night's festivities.

Dozens of VIPs showed up to the invitation-only event, hosted by comic Martin Short, including 15 active and former Patriot players who accompanied Kraft to Israel, as well as leaders of major Jewish organizations, top business and political figures and the prime minister.

Kraft and his delegation were hosted beforehand at the prime minister's office, where they presented Netanyahu a signed Patriots helmet and posed for a joint picture along with the Vince Lombardi Trophy they won at this year's Super Bowl. Netanyahu thanked Kraft for his friendship, his longtime support and for boosting American football in Israel, where it has resonated with native-born Israelis who have taken a liking to the army-like strategy, camaraderie and collisions of the gridiron.

''Everything you need in your game, Israel needs in its game,'' Netanyahu told the players. ''You need strategy and courage and ingenuity, we have that too.''

Kraft is the sixth winner of the prestigious prize, following former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor. Last year's winner, Natalie Portman, snubbed the event because she did not want to appear to be endorsing Netanyahu. The saga was troubling for the foundation, which says it works hard to prevent its philanthropy from being politicized.

Kraft's selection in January seemed like a safe bet to avoid repeat awkwardness, given his years of philanthropic activity and deep ties to Israel. But the following month, Florida authorities announced the misdemeanor solicitation charges as part of a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking.

Kraft has kept a low profile since then and Patriot officials have pointedly deflected any mention of the case throughout the week-long visit to Israel. The team did not make Kraft available for interviews.

Kraft is the founder, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group, the holding company of a diversified portfolio of businesses, which includes one of the largest privately-owned paper and packaging conglomerates in the world. He is best known, however, as owner of the six-time Super Bowl champion Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in American sports.

Kraft, who grew up in an observant Jewish home, is a well-known philanthropist in Israel, with deep connections to politicians across the political spectrum - including to Netanyahu, whom he's known for decades. Though a Democrat, he is also friendly with President Donald Trump.

Kraft is also the driving force behind the growth of American football in Israel in recent years. He's sponsored the sport since it was launched in 1999, and there are now more than 2,000 active players on more than 80 teams playing at various levels.

In 2017, he dedicated the Kraft Sports Complex in Jerusalem, which includes Israel's first full-sized football field. At the time, he brought a group of professional football Hall of Fame players with him, including well-known stars of the game Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach and Mike Singletary.

Tom Brady and other Patriots stars have also visited over the years. His current delegation includes kicker Stephen Gostkowski and former greats Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk and Andre Tippett.

Reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman is also in Israel for the event honoring Kraft.

The Genesis Prize was inaugurated in 2014 and is run in partnership between the Israeli prime minister's office, the private Genesis Prize Foundation and the chairman's office of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit group with close ties to the Israeli government. It is funded by a $100 million endowment established by the foundation.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been granted the foundation's only lifetime achievement award.

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Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap

Player Notes
Ezekiel Elliott Jul 15 4:21pm ET

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has privately said he intends to hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract, according to Pro football Talk's Mike Florio via a league source.

David Johnson Jul 15 4:03pm ET

Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson's receiving skills 'should come back to the forefront' after being 'all but ignored last season,' in the opinion of Darren Urban of AZcardinals.com.

Fantasy Spin: This has been the assumption among fantasy owners since Arizona hired Kliff Kingsbury, but it always helps to get it confirmed from a scribe that covers the team like Urban does. Johnson's goal of a 1,000/1,000 season may be a bit too much to ask, but this figures to be the 27-year-old's best shot of hitting those marks since his incredible 2016 campaign. He's well worth a pick in the top half of the first round of most fantasy drafts.

Alex Smith Jul 15 3:33pm ET

Washington Redskins QB Alex Smith (knee) will no longer be required to wear the external fixator that he had worn for eight months since suffering his devastating knee injury in November of 2018.

Grady Jarrett Jul 15 3:03pm ET

Atlanta Falcons DT Grady Jarrett reportedly reached an agreement on a four-year contract worth $68 million on Monday, July 15. Jarrett had been designated as the team's franchise player.

Ezekiel Elliott Jul 15 2:23pm ET

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has privately said he intends to hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract, according to Pro football Talk's Mike Florio via a league source.

Fantasy Spin: Elliott still has two years left on his rookie contract, so this is a bit different than Melvin Gordon's situation. Unlike most of the running backs in the NFL in today's game, the two-time Pro Bowler has slightly more leverage here due to the lack of depth Dallas has at the position and how important he is to the Cowboys' offense. It's unlikely he'll hold out into the regular season though. However, if he does, rookies Mike Weber and Tony Pollard would likely split touches.

Robbie Gould Jul 15 12:50pm ET

The San Francisco 49ers agreed to a two-year deal with kicker Robbie Gould on Monday. The sides avoided a potential franchise tag controversy by guaranteeing Gould $10.5 million over two years with a team option for two additional seasons. There were rumors that Gould was unhappy in the Bay and preferred returning to his hometown Chicago, but that is now moot. Gould, 36, has been a steady boot throughout his career with an 87.7 field goal percentage and a 78 percent success rate on attempts of 40-plus yards. Since joining the Niners in 2017, hes converted 72 of 75 field goal tries (96 percent). With the 49ers offense expected to improve in 2019, Gould should be a solid fantasy kicker.

From RotoBaller

Josh Allen Jul 15 12:10pm ET

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen had a higher interception rate than touchdown rate and a completion percentage of just 52.8% during his rookie year. Going into his sophomore season, Allen seems very aware of the mistakes he made as a rookie and is eager to fix them. During an interview on XM NFL Radio last week, Allen said, "I know theres a lot of things that I missed on last year" and he described these misses as "A lot of dumb plays." He then went on to describe his goal of "Learning from those and then going into next season and trying to apply what Ive learned onto the field." Allen is a popular sleeper going into the 2019 season and if he can indeed cut down on the miscues, there's a good chance he could tap into some of that sleeper potential. He's a great target in two-QB leagues.

From RotoBaller

Kendrick Norton Jul 15 10:13am ET

Miami Dolphins DT Kendrick Norton (arm) will have his sixth, and likely final surgery, Monday, July 15, after he lost his arm in a car accident. He could be discharged from the hospital by next week.

Grady Jarrett Jul 15 9:53am ET

Updating an earlier report, Atlanta Falcons DT Grady Jarrett has some hope in beating the 4 p.m. ET deadline to sign a long-term deal Monday, July 15.

Derrick Morgan Jul 15 8:53am ET

Free-agent LB Derrick Morgan (Titans) announced his retirement Monday, July 15.

Robbie Gould Jul 15 8:33am ET

Updating an earlier report, San Francisco 49ers PK Robbie Gould's deal includes a $3 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $3.15 million and $4.35 million. The option clause must be exercised by the 17th week of the 2020 season, which would fully guarantee Gould $2.25 million and another $2.25 million April 1, 2021. If the option is picked up, the deal would include a $4.5 million base salary in 2021 and a $4 million base salary in 2022.

Robbie Gould Jul 15 8:23am ET

San Francisco 49ers PK Robbie Gould agreed to a long-term deal before the deadline for franchise tag players Monday, July 15. The deal is a two-year, $10.5 million fully guaranteed deal with an option clause that can turn it into a four-year, $19 million deal with $15 million guaranteed.

Fantasy Spin: Gould is a back-end PK1 that could have some upside if Jimmy Garoppolo continues to progress the way he was before the knee injury.

Jadeveon Clowney Jul 15 8:23am ET

Houston Texans LB Jadeveon Clowney will not get a deal done before the deadline Monday, July 15, for franchise tag players to sign long-term contracts.

Grady Jarrett Jul 15 8:23am ET

Atlanta Falcons DT Grady Jarrett is unlikely to sign a long-term deal before the deadline for franchise tag players to do so Monday, July 15.

Christian McCaffrey Jul 15 3:03am ET

Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey might see a little more help in the backfield, as head coach Ron Rivera searches for a secondary runner. '(McCaffrey) him touching the ball was no concern,' Rivera said. 'It was just the extra plays. So we have to look at that and find a way to take that load from him.' The team re-signed RBs Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood, they drafted RB Jordan Scarlett, signed Elijah Holyfield as an undrafted free agent and have RB Reggie Bonnafon in the mix as well.

Fantasy Spin: McCaffrey will remain a first-round fantasy selection who will be the bellcow in Charlotte, but a little more rest, particularly late in games with the outcome already decided would not be a bad thing for C-Mac's long-term health. Fantasy owners shouldn't be terribly concerned.

Robbie Gould Jul 15 2:43am ET

San Francisco 49ers PK Robbie Gould was offered the $4.971 million franchise tag on Feb. 26, but he still has not signed the deal. Gould, who requested a trade back in April, is unsure that playing for the 49ers is best for him and his family. The deadline for a multi-year deal is 4 p.m. ET on Monday, July 15, and he said he was not going to commit to making a decision by then.

Jadeveon Clowney Jul 15 2:33am ET

Houston Texans DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney was offered the $15.967 million tag on March 4, but he has yet to sign it. He has been looking for a long-term extension, and the deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to a multi-year contract is coming up on Monday, July 15 at 4 p.m. ET.

Nate Sudfeld Jul 15 1:40am ET

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nate Sudfeld is considered a lock to make the final roster according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Sudfeld is expected to start the season as the primary backup to starter Carson Wentz. The rest of the Eagles quarterback room is Cody Kessler and fifth-round pick Clayton Thorson. Neither player should push Sudfeld for QB2 duties, but if Sudfeld struggles in the preseason, the Eagles could end up with three quarterbacks on the roster.

From RotoBaller

Marquez Valdes-Scantling Jul 14 10:23pm ET

Green Bay Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling said he has been working out with retired WR Randy Moss four days a week to prepare of the upcoming season.

Fantasy Spin: Valdes-Scantling is in the mix to to be the No. 2 receiver in Green Bay, and if he ends up starting across from Davante Adams, he will immediately become a WR4 with upside.

Antonio Callaway Jul 14 9:23pm ET

Cleveland Browns WR Antonio Callaway has improved his game, according to QB Baker Mayfield, and Mayfield said he is 'very happy' with what he's seen out of Callaway during spring practices.

Fantasy Spin: Callaway has a good chance to open the year as the No. 3 receiver because of his ability to stretch the field, but he will be an all-or-nothing fantasy option in that role. He's a late-round lottery ticket, at best.