By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Rich Shertenlieb asked the most important question of all to Patriots president Jonathan Kraft about the collective efforts to bring 1.7 million surgical masks to the U.S.: when the movie comes out, will Mark Wahlberg play his father?
The hope is that the film industry doesn’t let Wahlberg ruin the production. But there’s no question that, if there’s any movie to come out about the coronavirus, it will be about the efforts of the Krafts, Mass. governor Charlie Baker, and numerous other officials, lawyers, businesspeople, and crew members in the U.S. and China to deliver N95 masks to desperate healthcare workers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.
What’s important is not that the movie is actually good, but the uplifting news that Massachusetts and New York are set to get these masks in the first place.
But for the movie, the first tandem that comes to mind for me is director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, who collaborated on one of the best movies of the 21st century, The Social Network. Sorkin’s legendary knack for dialogue would make riveting cinema out of the many legal and logistical battles that the Krafts and others went through in order to make the delivery happen. And few directors know how to ratchet up the tension in a pure drama like Fincher would.
And this is a story rife with real life tension, but the kind that ended in triumph for healthcare workers in the U.S.
As for the story itself…
Jonathan Kraft went into detail on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Friday about the incredible story of the Patriots’ team plane carrying 1.2 million N95 surgical masks back to America. In all, the Krafts paid $2 million (about half the cost) for 1.7 million masks. The first 1.2 million landed safely in Boston on Thursday; the rest will come at a later shipment.
It started with a phone call from Gov. Baker to the Patriots president.
“The governor said to me, ‘I am so blank-ing frustrated,” said Jonathan. “He had seen this coming. He knew this was coming. He saw we had a need and he said ‘I’ve had a couple of big batches of PPE [personal protective equipment] and at the end of the day, they just haven’t come through.’ And he said ‘We just, through a third party, just secured well over a million masks in China, but I have no way of getting them here, and the supply chains are totally frozen.’ He said, ‘Do you think people who have airplanes would be willing to fly over?’”
Baker was apparently thinking a fleet of smaller planes. But Jonathan knew right away that it would be more practical to use the Patriots’ Boeing 767, which isn’t a traditional cargo plane but has way more space than any small passenger aircraft.
Jonathan said that he and father Robert Kraft wanted to make a “significant financial contribution” to the efforts against COVID-19, but didn’t want to just write a check. So they began moving on efforts to get the Patriots’ team plane to China and back with the masks.
That involved a complicated set of hurdles for the Krafts to clear in both the U.S. and China. They had to go through the Federal Aviation Administration to waive some of the requirements for the crew to fly internationally and come back with cargo instead of people.
“No one was ever in danger, but just there were some things that needed to be sort of looked the other way on, versus if you had a plane full of 250 passengers,” said Kraft.
“An Extraordinary Gift”
The Patriots assembled a crew of 10-11 people, including four pilots, three maintenance techs, and flight attendants to take care of them along the way. They first flew to Alaska, rested for 12 hours, then made the flight to China.
But ostensibly the biggest obstacle was securing the necessary permits to land in China in the first place. Jonathan credited D.C. law firm Hogan Lovells for helping the Patriots work with Chinese officials, including at the embassies here in the U.S., to make sure everyone was allowed entry. The plane crew, despite not being allowed to leave the plane for health and social distancing reasons, still needed visas.
And even with permission secured, the Patriots could only keep their plane grounded in China for three hours. They filled the plane with as many masks as they could and got the whole process done in about two hours, 57 minutes.
But how did they pull that off while having to keep all of their crew members aboard the plane? Jonathan says Mass. General Hospital board member and former Goldman Sachs Asia exec Mark Schwartz reached out to Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent for help. The company “embraced” the effort from the very top levels, directing many of its employees and trucks to aid in the efforts to deliver and protect the masks on the way to the plane. Tencent is guarding the final 500,000 masks until the second trip.
“Think about a company like Apple or Facebook or Google in this country, doing it with their people in their home market, which was just such an extraordinary gift from Tencent to us,” said Jonathan.
Why such an effort to get this specific inventory of masks from overseas? Gov. Baker prioritized getting high-quality N95 masks that are typically made for hospitals and healthcare workers, as opposed to a cheaper mask that may be suitable for the average consumer. Jonathan credited Gov. Baker for securing the deal for the masks in the first place.
“Basic surgical masks can help in non-critical care areas where you know you are maybe not being exposed over and over again to the virus,” said Jonathan. “You can use them and they’re a help, but when you’re being exposed over and over again to the virus, the real front-line caregivers, they need this higher quality of mask, and right now the global supply chain is just a mess.”
Just an amazing story. And it probably featured plenty of real tension, too. The kind that won’t have to be played up too much to make a good movie.
Anyway, you can help the Patriots in their continued efforts to aid in the war on coronavirus at Patriots.com/covid19. Listen to Toucher & Rich’s full interview with Jonathan Kraft below.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.