The New England Patriots have touted the use of their team planes for humanitarian missions, but the aircraft also seem to be commissioned for much darker purposes.
At least one of the team's two Boeing 767-300s was reportedly used by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for several deportation flights to Honduras earlier this month, the University of Washington's Center for Human Rights recently reported.
The planes were purchased by the Patriots in 2017 and are currently operated by Eastern Airlines, the report said, and the Patriots last used one of them for their January playoff game against the Bills in Buffalo.
The revelation comes as part of a larger report by the university, titled "Abuses in the Air: Sports travel and deportation industry."
Aircraft used for shuttling athletes and other celebrities around the globe are often run by a "shadowy network of private charter companies" and are commonly contracted by ICE for deportations, the study said, with each flight costing taxpayers over $1 million in a business model that is similar to the one used by private, for-profit detention centers.
Migrants are frequently beaten and brutalized aboard these flights, the report said, citing previous news reports, and they are often transported in violation of US and international asylum laws to situations where they can face "torture, assault or even enslavement."
The study cites previous reporting by a Cornell Law School professor who has written that athletes, entertainers and executives must face the reality that their luxurious travel experience is starkly different from that of previous passengers.
"Athletes must accept that they are sitting in a seat perhaps last occupied by a migrant bloodied from abuse, or a parent taken from her child," according to Kathleen Bergin.
The interior of the planes are reconfigured for deportation flights, the study said.
The Patriots' team planes are easily recognizable by the team logo emblazoned on the fuselage.
The brawny airliners have been in several news headlines in recent years, including for humanitarian trips to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, procuring N-95 masks in China, carrying protesters to anti-gun violence demonstrations, and transporting US troops home from the horn of Africa.