The drive for criminal justice reform is being fought by an unlikely group of individuals ... the owners of America’s sports teams, including Clara Wu Tsai, wife of Joe Tsai and co-owner with him of the Nets and Liberty
Wu Tsai has joined by two (much) higher profile sports team owners ... Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and Michael Rubin, co-owner with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils in the effort. It’s about fighting for those who have been adversely affected by what they see as an unjust probation system.
Inspired by Meek Mill and Jay-Z, they were critical to setting up —and financing— the Reform Alliance last year.
“It’s a way for me to give back,” Wu Tsai replied when asked about her motive behind joining The Reform Alliance. “So many people in urban, low-income areas are caught up in an endless cycle of incarceration and probation and parole, which limits their ability for job stability.”
Wu Tsai, a native of Kansas and graduate of Harvard and Stanford, has spoken frequently about helping the Brooklyn community, but their participation in the Reform Alliance shows the couple are willing to take on national issues as well. According to a source close to the alliance, The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation has contributed $10 million to the Alliance.
The owners’ push started with a phone call from Robert Rimeek Williams, better known by his stage name, Meek Mill, to Kraft.
“When I realized Meek was put in jail, it showed just how nutty and unfair the system is,” Kraft told NetsDaily. “It’s not good for American society. He could be earning money, paying taxes and having employees. But because of a silly system, it treats people of color unfairly.”
Michael Rubin was in court firsthand for the proceedings that landed Mill in jail. He watched the judge sentence him two-to-four years in state prison after he violated the terms of his probation for reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Not long after, Rubin and Kraft were on vacation together when Mill called Rubin and asked for the two to visit him in prison.
“I’d never been to a jail,” said Kraft. “When I visited him, I said ‘here we have a guy on a parole violation for doing something silly like a wheelie. And he’s in jail.’ That visit impacted me more than anything.”
Mill was one of 4.5 million people on probation or parole convicted of nonviolent offenses.
“This was no different than fixing one of my businesses,” Rubin told NetsDaily. “You see a problem and you say, ‘how can I aggressively fix this?’ You get the best people involved, getting the appropriate capital involved, and you put the best team together. We put together a world-class team.”
Indeed, in addition to the three owners, Mill and Jay-Z, the alliance’s “partners” include Van Jones, the CNN commentator and former Obama White House aide. Rubin helped get Wu Tsai involved.
The first priority for the Alliance was to take the fight to Pennsylvania, home of Meek Mill and the second highest rate of incarceration in the country.
“Pennsylvania is the first step because of everything that happened with Meek [Mill] and there’s a bill that’s already there,” Wu Tsai told NetsDaily. “We plan on using what we do in Pennsylvania as a model for what we do in other states. Ultimately, the goal is social cohesion. It isn’t about words; it’s about action.”
“I think we want to have an overhaul on the whole parole system,” added Kraft in his interview with NetsDaily. “It’s staggering that we, as a society, have more people on parole, more people in jail, than anywhere else. I mean it’s crazy. We got to change the legal system in about six or eight states that are way out of whack. I think Pennsylvania and Georgia are two of those states.”
Earlier this year, Rubin and Mill introduced plans for a bipartisan bill proposal in the Pennsylvania legislature to address issues with technical probation violations and revise some of the harsh penalties that people in Pennsylvania receive while under probation. The Senate Bill 14 would address Mill’s case and many others by capping probation at five years for felonies and three for misdemeanors. It would also shorten the length of probation for good behavior.
For Rubin, his commitment was personal, borne out of a loathing for injustice.
“Watching this happen, seeing how close it was, we needed to step in. Seeing how broken the system was, that’s what made us draw the line. This wasn’t an isolated problem; this stuff happens every day.”
Rubin’s friendship with the Philadelphia rapper began after the two met while sitting courtside at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York City. Rubin explained how the two had become like family since that day, and how many of their conversations revolved around the opposite realities in their lives.
Kraft did it for his friend, too. He explained how he befriended Mill several years back after he gave the rapper a lift to Florida on his private plane. Kraft said it was at that time that he took a liking to Mill, because he appreciated their conversations about business.
But Meek Mill wasn’t the only reason Kraft joined. He did it for his players.
“Our whole foundation at the Patriots is geared towards helping those people who are most vulnerable or are not treated right by society,” said Kraft. “I have a chance to be exposed in my locker room to the players who have devoted a lot of their off-field efforts to this area to make a positive change, guys like Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.”
Slater, McCourty and Harmon either kneeled or locked arms in solidarity, among other Patriots players, during the National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans back on September 24 of 2017. It was the players’ way of supporting Colin Kaepernick’s own drive for justice reform.
Moreover, Rubin and Wu Tsai both own a team in the NBA, where 74.4 percent of the league is African-American. Kraft owns a team in the NFL where 70 percent of the league is African-American. Statistics show that African-Americans end up on probation at a rate 54 percent higher than whites.
When she joined the Alliance in January of last year, Wu Tsai spoke as well to the urban community where her team lives and works.
“Since my childhood days growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the issues in our country surrounding economic mobility,” said Wu Tsai.
“Over the years I’ve come to learn it’s very difficult to move the needle on economic mobility, particularly in urban areas like Brooklyn, without also addressing the problems latent within our criminal justice system.”
Having celebrity support in the age of omnipresent social media is a big deal for any group trying to change things.
On the day of Mill’s court hearing, Jay-Z’s partner and CEO of Roc Nation, Desiree Perez, walked up to Rubin and said, “We’re not going to stop [until he’s out of jail] too.”
Many NBA players visited Mill while he was in jail including James Harden, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Julius Erving. Actor and Comedian Kevin Hart organized The “Rally for Meek,” and several Philadelphia Eagles football players attended. Meanwhile, record producer and songwriter, Khaled Mohamed Khaled aka “DJ Khaled” has been by Mill’s side through the whole process.
“When Meek was locked up, we all felt it,” Khaled told The GQ. “I think the world came together and felt like, ‘This is a good man.’ The outcome was that he became a free man, but it wasn’t easy. Yeah, he’s free, but he and the Reform Alliance are working to help other people become free.”
The owners, their players and others in the sports community have done more than lend their name to the Alliance. They have been part of several public events that have attracted both the media and general public.
Two days before Christmas, Wu Tsai and Caris LeVert joined Rubin, Mill and Khaled for a heavily covered holiday party at the NBA Store for children of those stuck in the probation system.
LeVert, who was the headliner at the event (wearing a splint over his then injured thumb), stood in solidarity with Meek ... and his ownership.
“She’s a very genuine person,” LeVert told NetsDaily when asked about Wu Tsai. “Very genuine person. She’s been very welcoming from Day One, and the same goes for her (from the players). She’s a huge basketball fan so us as players, we really appreciate that. I can’t wait to continue to build our relationship and see what else she has in store for this initiative.”
In the middle of the store that day, the two friends, Rubin and Mill, smiled at the scene and had a candid conversation in which Rubin admitted was a touchstone moment for him. He may be a billionaire but some things were beyond his reach.
“Had I not seen it firsthand, I wouldn’t have [gotten involved],” said Rubin. “Watching Meek sit in prison day after day knowing that he popped a wheelie and got sent to jail… it was the first time in my life I felt out of control because I couldn’t just snap my fingers and get him out of prison.”
“To my white friend it was out of control, to us it was a normal thing,” Meek Mill said. “We built this up and carried it into the Reform.”
Meek Mill’s answer reflects how two men from opposite realities came together to lead the fight for reform.
“I’m not a super spiritual person but I thought maybe Meek was put on this planet to do this, to make this happen,” Rubin said. “Sometimes destiny kicks in.”
The three owners may have different reasons why they’re fighting the criminal justice system, yet they all have the same goal. They’re fighting the system to help those adversely affected by the probation system, particularly those at a disadvantage.
As Wu Tsai said at the Christmas Party, LeVert at her side, things can change if you have the motivation and wherewithal.
“There’s so much we can do in Brooklyn, the community and really, all over,” said Wu Tsai. “I don’t think it should be that hard to build this community, but all of this is mainly because I care about the community and I care about what’s right. It isn’t about word, it’s about action.”
“I hope we get uniformity and we correct an ill,” Kraft told NetsDaily. “We’re living in a time where we need good, productive people, and this is a silly system. I hope the Reform Alliance helps preview that even more and brings forth positive social change. All of America will benefit by that.”