When Josh Kraft read the mission statement of Boston’s LGBT flag football league at an awards ceremony, he didn’t know what he was getting into.

Or maybe, just maybe, he did.

It was earlier this year that the son of New England Patriots and Revolution owner Bob Kraft accepted an award from the local chapter of PFLAG. While reading about the LGBT community leading up to the April ceremony, he noticed a scholarship program being run by the FLAG Flag Football League, an LGBT group promoting flag football in the Boston area.

The members of the league in attendance that night wasted no time.

“I feel kind of bad,” said Gay Bowl XVII spokesperson Dave Hamilton. “We nearly tackled the man.”

Casual pleasantries with Kraft that night led to a substantive exchange of emails over the next couple of weeks. The door opened for a face-to-face meeting in which Hamilton and other league leaders proposed a partnership with the Patriots that would include some LGBT youth outreach.

“He was intrigued by our full embrace of the community,” Hamilton said.

A couple weeks later, Kraft came back with an answer. He had talked to his father about the league, the National Gay Flag Football League and the Gay Bowl. The Kraft family was fully on board with what has become a transformational moment for the local Boston league and the Gay Bowl: Lead sponsorship of the Gay Bowl to the tune of $25,000.

"I literally started crying,” Hamilton said. He received the email from Kraft around 11 p.m. celebrating his birthday on vacation in Ireland. “I called Danny Tyrrell, our commissioner, and I think he started crying too.

“In the middle of everything that's happening in this country and the divisiveness, to have your world champion Patriots recognize that what we do as a league is important, it's important to us, it's important to them. It's never been done before."

The Patriots previously engaged the Gay Bowl in 2003 when Boston hosted the event, sending Hall of Famer Andre Tippett to represent the team. In 2007, the New York Giants engaged the Gay Bowl that was being hosted in New York City. Other teams like the San Francisco 49ers have worked with LGBT organizations like GLAAD on particular initiatives. A small handful of teams, including the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have engaged You Can Play in its campaigns and promotion.

Nothing like what the Patriots are doing has been done by an NFL team before.

One legacy component to the Patriots’ powerful gesture is how other NFL teams will respond. The Gay Bowl will be held in Denver in 2018. Will the Denver Broncos follow suit and work with the Denver Gay and Lesbian Flag Football League as they host their second Gay Bowl? The Patriots’ participation sets a precedent for the Broncos to continue or abandon. Their choice will speak volumes.

It has also opened the door to engagement with other pro teams. At their Pride Night this Friday, the Boston Red Sox will announce their sponsorship of the Gay Bowl as well. Team executive David Baggs is an out gay man and a member of the FLAG Flag Football League. It shows the power of having out people in front offices, and having them engaged in the local community.

As the NFL and many of its 32 teams continue to wrestle with best practices in demonstrating support for the LGBT community while having no publicly out players in the league, the Patriots are again showing leadership off the field.

“We seek out partners that share similar values to ours, so it should come as no surprise that we're supporting the FLAG Flag Football league,” said Josh Kraft, President of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, in a statement. “Their mission to tackle stereotypes, build community, and transform lives through sport, represents the same goals of inclusiveness that the Patriots have long-shared on and off the field."

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