Thu Jun 20 4:42pm ET
By ARON HELLER
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.
Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap
New York Giants wide receiver/kick returner Da'Mari Scott has elected to opt out of the 2020 NFL season. Scott has mostly been a special teams contributor when active. He was active for five games last season and three in 2018 for the Bills. Scott has caught two passes in his career, for a total of 22 yards.
Dallas Cowboys full back Jamize Olawale has chose to opt out of the 2020 season. In two seasons with Dallas, Olawale has yet to attempt a rush and has caught just two passes. He has primarily worked on special teams, logging 539 special teams snaps as compared to just 232 offensive snaps (almost all for blocking). He's under contract for $1.3 million in 2021.
The Cleveland Browns placed wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) on the active/PUP list on Sunday. The team said that Landry has not had a setback and is still on schedule in his recovery. Landry is healing up from February hip surgery. Initially given a 6-8 month timetable to return, Landry will be cutting it close if he wants to be active for Week 1. If Landry is unable to start the season on time, Kareem Hunt could see added snaps as a wide receiver. When healthy, Landry is a solid WR2 in PPR leagues.
Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins is using his slide into the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft as motivation for his upcoming rookie season. In speaking with reporters in a 15-minute Zoom session, Dobbins stated, "I don't need any fuel but it added fuel. It was kind of shocking but I fell to the right team." Dobbins clearly feels he belonged in the first round of the draft, although his inability to participate in the combine back in February may have contributed to the slide. Dobbins will almost surely open the season behind veteran Mark Ingram II but the rookie has massive upside, especially if Ingram misses time throughout the year. Dobbins is a blue-chip building block as a dynasty prospect and an upside RB3 in redraft.
The Dallas Cowboys have officially released kicker Kai Forbath. Forbath came to the Cowboys near the end of last season and made all 10 of his kicks after replacing Brett Maher. Forbath's early release means that Greg Zuerlein has locked up the kicking job in Dallas. With a strong leg in what should be a powerful offense, Zuerlein makes for a good fantasy kicking option.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku has decided to "give the team his full commitment" according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Njoku requested a trade from Cleveland last month but reportedly had some positive meetings with the organization, including general manager Andrew Berry. Those who were hoping Njoku would land with a team that would provide him a clearer path to targets and fantasy stats will have to look elsewhere for tight end production now. Njoku will compete for looks with free-agent signing Austin Hooper, although the Browns reportedly have a significant role in the offense planned for Njoku. For now, he's a low-end TE2 in fantasy drafts.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees focused his offseason training on throwing the deep ball. The 41-year-old stated his goal was to throw a 60-yard pass and proceeded to work at it since March, deploying unique training methods because of the coronavirus pandemic. Brees said "there have been moments of discovery" and that he hopes it pays dividends on the field. That would be nice for both the Saints and fantasy managers who draft him, considering he has looked downfield less and less as he's aged. Pro Football Focus ranked him just 22nd as a deep-ball passer and only Jimmy Garoppolo threw deep less in 2019. Brees remains as accurate as ever and should have a solid floor most weeks for fantasy. Perhaps his offseason workouts will help him look downfield more, giving him better upside in 2020.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson and his representatives are talking with general manager Bill O'Brien and the team on a contract extension. 'We're working hard,' O'Brien said Friday, July 31. 'We want him here a long time.'
Fantasy Spin: Watson has been a top-five fantasy QB in each of his two full seasons. The offseason trade of top target DeAndre Hopkins hurts, but Watson remains a rock-solid QB1.
Free agent CB Akeem King (Seahawks) is in Buffalo on Friday, July 31, undergoing a physical with the Bills.
Updating a previous report, Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season because his mother has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Jacksonville Jaguars DT Al Woods has opted out of the 2020 season.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz has visibly bulked up in the offseason, according to beat writer Paul Domowitch, who wrote that Wentz's biceps and chest were bigger. 'This offseason, I was really able to get after it and work out a little harder in my gym and all those things,' Wentz said. 'I haven't gained anything insane weight-wise. But I have definitely gained some weight. I feel really good with where I'm at.'
Fantasy Spin: Wentz could be forgotten about in the midrange QB1 area, which would give him probably the most upside since his breakthrough season in 2017.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) remains on track in his rehab, according to head coach Kevin Stefanski. Landry had surgery to repair his hip back on February 4 and, according to Stefanski, is targeting a return to the field sometime in August. When asked just how much Landry would be able to participate in training camp, Stefanski said, Our physicals for vets are Saturday and Sunday of this week, so I will have a better answer for you after that. But he remains on schedule based on everything he has done post-surgery. Assuming Landry is ready for Week 1, he can be drafted confidently as a WR2 in fantasy leagues.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku requested a trade from the team last month after the team added other tight ends to the roster, most notably Austin Hooper. Head coach Kevin Stefanski was asked about Njoku recently and stated, My stance hasnt changed. The organizations stance hasnt changed in that we believe in David. Stefanski reportedly plans to use Njoku heavily in his offense, which ran two-tight end sets frequently when he was the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings. There's still a chance the team deals Njoku during training camp but for now, it appears they still consider him a part of their future plans.
Free-agent WR Bennie Fowler (Giants) reportedly agreed to terms on an undisclosed contract with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, July 30.
The New Orleans Saints signed linebacker Nigel Bradham to a one-year deal on Thursday. With the loss of starter A.J. Klein to the Buffalo Bills and two other starters coming off injuries from last year, depth was needed at the position. The 30-year-old Bradham has compiled at least 80 total tackles four times in his career and was a key member of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl-winning defense. With the uncertainty of training camps and OTAs, New Orleans may lean on the veteran early in the season as a starter.
The Atlanta Falcons signed cornerback Darqueze Dennard on Thursday. The former first-round pick from the 2014 draft had previously agreed to a three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the deal fell through after the two parties couldn't hammer out the final contract numbers. Dennard, who is from Georgia, will bring some much-needed depth to Atlanta's cornerback room and could even start opposite rookie A.J. Terrell. The 28-year-old recorded 274 tackles, 22 passes defended and three interceptions in six seasons with the Bengals.
New York Jets TE Daniel Brown (undisclosed) was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list Thursday, July 30.
New York Jets QB Joe Flacco (neck) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list Thursday, July 30.
Free agent running back LeSean McCoy has signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The deal is worth just over $1 million according to Ian Rapoport. The veteran back is a good depth signing for Tampa Bay, who was in need of a proven pass-catching back. While McCoy is far from the running back he used to be, he still compiled the best yards per touch mark last year since 2016 and has caught at least 25 passes in each season. Unfortunately, this makes drafting Ronald Jones II and Ke'Shawn Vaughn less appealing now that there's a third back in the room. It's probably a backfield to avoid in fantasy for the moment, though in a perfect world this move pushes Jones II to new heights.