As representatives from the NFL and its players meet for another round of forced mediation in Minnesota this Monday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft remains optimistic about the future – long- and short-term – of the game.
"The problem can be solved, I really believe that," Kraft insisted Sunday in Foxborough, referring to the league's ongoing labor dispute, now in its third month.
Kraft acknowledged that the extended discord, if allowed to persist, could have far-reaching consequences.
"And one of my concerns," he cited, "is that we not aggravate our fan base … and we have to be very careful. I think we're coming to that point now where we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans, because in the end, the fans just want football. They don't want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling."
Kraft's comment came during the third annual "Science of Sports" science fair at Gillette Stadium, hosted by the Patriots and Raytheon Company. During the lockout, players are not allowed to have direct contact with employees of their respective organizations, but events like this one – a long-standing community event – provide an exception. This allowed Patriots safety Patrick Chung to take part alongside his owner.
The pair, joined by Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson, served as executive judges of the competition.
"I thank Raytheon that I got to see Patrick Chung or I wouldn't have gotten to see him," said Kraft. "I'd like to see him in the building all the time, but the process doesn't allow us to do that."
"It sucks," Chung agreed, putting the lockout in blunt terms, "but we have to do what we have to do. Mr. Kraft and the organization are doing what they have to do and we're doing what we have to do … I'm just getting ready for the season. I'm confident there's going to be one. So I'm just waiting it out."
In the meantime, Chung enjoyed some rare moments with Kraft and the students in the competition. For the last five months, children and teens from 12 Boys & Girls Clubs across New England have worked under the guidance of Raytheon volunteer mentors to develop and execute projects that explore math or science through sports.
As part of an outreach and mentoring program, the Raytheon employees made regular visits to the 19 teams, hailing from the Dorchester, Framingham, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Marlboro, Nashua (N.H.), Newport (R.I), Pawtucket (R.I), Roxbury, Waltham, and Woburn Boys & Girls Clubs.
Kraft, Chung, and Swanson went booth to booth viewing each of the 19 projects and listening to presentations from the eager students, who weren't afraid to give Kraft advice.
"If I were you, I'd definitely switch to this material," one student, whose project explored helmet materials, told Kraft, while another group assured the judges that expensive sneakers that athletes wear aren't worth the price.
After careful deliberation among the executive judges and technical judges, the "Math Shoes" group from Roxbury, Mass. won first place honors and $1,000 scholarships each with their project dealing with how well various athletic shoes move on different surfaces. The "Cranium Crasherz" from Woburn came in second with $750 scholarships each and "The Hullosters" from Lawrence took home $500 scholarships for third place.
"This was my first time here and I loved it," said Chung. "There are a lot of smart kids out here doing the right things and getting an early start on education and helping themselves out for the future."
"This event is really special to me personally," said Kraft during the awards ceremony. "Hopefully we're touching young people and planting seeds and creating new interests in something that can change young lives…Math and science are so important in this country and we're not training enough of our young people to follow in that area. I hope this program helps to do that."