Pro football’s off-season coaching shakeup now includes the departure of team chaplain Jack Easterby from the defending champion New England Patriots. Easterby, who was the team’s character coach for six years, reportedly left because he’s uncomfortable with owner Robert Kraft’s recent legal troubles. Easterby’s contract also was up, and he’s rumored to be heading to a similar role with the Carolina Panthers.
Kraft faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, following a police investigation at a Florida massage parlor. Through his attorney, Kraft denies engaging in any criminal activity.
Easterby Emphasizes ‘Kingdom Ethics’
Throughout his career, Easterby has helped teams tackle tough off-the-field issues. While he was team chaplain for the Kansas City Chiefs, he helped players and staff cope with a traumatic murder-suicide. Then New England hired him, largely to deal with the aftermath of a former player’s murder charge.
While leading Bible studies, offering godly counsel and maintaining “an unbending open-door policy,” Easterby gets to know players on a personal level. With the Patriots, he also became a close confidant of head coach Bill Belichick and earned a reputation as “the most influential Patriot you’ve never heard of.”
Through his ministry The Greatest Champion, Easterby espouses a “Kingdom Ethics” leadership style—one that “teaches God’s comprehensive rule over every area of life.” His role with a football team, he says, is “to simply serve.” He does that by helping players “create healthier relationships, healthier viewpoints, so that they can become the kind of people they want” and become “more sustainable in just about everything.”
‘Choices matter,’ Says Easterby
Before Super Bowl LIII last month, Easterby spoke about the importance of his behind-the-scenes role. “Character and the kind of people you hire is something that our country is in desperate need to get back to evaluating,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it matters most when we count it the least. And when we evaluate it the least, it matters most. It’s tough, but we have seen a lot of businesses and industries fall because of a lack of character. One of the things we’ve seen come up in our culture lately [is] that choices matter.”
Although Easterby hasn’t made a public statement about Kraft’s arrest, he retweeted a message from Saints player Benjamin Watson about the “entrenched evil” of human trafficking. Watson, a Christian who champions family and social-justice issues, tweeted:
“Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are not simply horrific crimes that occur ‘OVER THERE’ in a far away land, but are an entrenched evil demanded, nurtured, enabled and protected by the appetites and power of family, friends and co workers RIGHT HERE! Its roots run much deeper than a famous name or headline. No matter the perpetrator, human dignity, truth and justice demand that these crimes against humanity be unveiled, individuals and collectives involved be punished, and survivors be restored. It is well past time we stop looking the other way.”
But leaving the Patriots when they need him the most isn’t a great leadership move by Easterby, says Jerry Thornton, author of a book about the team. “Is this what you do when one of the flock you are shepherding through this wicked world goes astray?” he writes. “You just cut and run? Doesn’t a man in Jack Easterby’s position have an obligation to try and save the soul of anyone in his ministry [who] sins?”
Thornton admits he doesn’t know the Bible as well as a team chaplain likely does, but he knows about forgiveness. “Jack Easterby is disappointed in Mr. Kraft?” he writes. “I’m disappointed in Jack Easterby.”
Kraft’s Arrest Shines Spotlight Human Trafficking
When news first broke of Kraft’s arrest, some people—especially online—seemed to celebrate the billionaire’s downfall. Reactions from Patriots fans ranged from shock to shrugs of “so what?” One woman told a Boston TV station, “He’s single” and “it’s a free country.” Kraft, 77, is a widower.