As much as New England Patriots fans might not like it, former tight end Rob Gronkowski is making the correct choice in continuing his life post-football.
New England owner Robert Kraft was all of us Patriots fans when he recently told reporters that “we can always pray and hope” Rob Gronkowski has a change of heart and decides to return to the team at some point. After all, as Kraft pointed out, Gronk still has yet to officially submit his retirement papers to the NFL, which could easily be interpreted as a sign that he wants to keep the door open for a potential comeback in the future.
On Tuesday morning though, Gronkowski slammed that door shut, locked it, and threw the key into the Massachusetts Bay. Apparently even all the combined prayers and hopes of Patriots Nation weren’t enough to persuade him to put the uniform back on one last time.
“Obviously when I retired I retired for a reason, because I needed to step away. So it would be a no. It would be a no,” Gronkowski said Tuesday morning on “The Greg Hill Show,” via WEEI’s Andy Hart.
Appearing as a guest on the radio program, a caller had phoned in to ask Gronkowski directly if he was willing to commit one way or another to staying retired. He didn’t mince words in his response:
“There it is. But I never say no because I said no and everyone was like ‘yeah, he’s kidding.’ It’s a no. In my mind that’s how it is. It’s a no. I say I keep it open because even when I do say no people are like ‘yeah right, he’s kidding.’ They always spin it. But in my mind it’s a no. There you go.”
You can’t blame the caller for trying to get a decisive answer out of Gronkowski.
Ever since he announced his early retirement in an Instagram post last March, there has been seemingly endless speculation as to what it might take to get him to reconsider. Numerous analysts, sportswriters, and fans have suggested all manner of theories since then… with one widespread belief hypothesizing that it would only take a Tom Brady personal plea via phone call to get Rob Gronkowski back on the Patriots.
Gronk hasn’t done much to dispel the rumors himself, either. He’s certainly correct in emphasizing just how frequently he’s been asked about a comeback, but part of the reason people keep asking him about it is because he keeps giving vague, humorous, or contradictory answers when prompted.
It’s been a vicious cycle like this for months now, and the Patriots’ on-field offensive struggles with personnel loss and injury attrition haven’t done anything to slow down the rumor mill either.
Matt LaCosse has been on-again/off-again in terms of his availability all year. Benjamin Watson was signed, released, and then re-signed again. Andrew Beck, Lance Kendricks, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Stephen Anderson were all alternately expected to contribute this season before getting cut or released. Now it appears that veteran Eric Tomlinson has been added to the roster as of Tuesday morning.
While Gronkowski’s response to the radio caller was by far the most clear-cut “no” we’ve heard him give since the comeback rumors first started, it still doesn’t completely rule out the possibility – however slight – that he could one day return to the NFL and the Patriots. Gronk himself admits that if he were to feel the “itch” one day to play again, he’d certainly scratch that itch… but it would have to be a long, strong, pronounced itch first.
“I would have to be feeling it, mentally and physically. It would need to be 10 days or a couple weeks of me just feeling it, like I need to go play football again. I don’t know how I would describe it. That’s what I’m trying to say. I’m enjoying myself right now. I don’t have that itch. If I had that itch I would go back. I would have to have that itch and it would have to be a continuous itch. It’s not like I see Tom throw a nice touchdown pass and, like man if that’s me and for like the five second itch. It has to be a continuous itch, like every day, every week. It has to be a long, continuous itch.”
So that’s the secret sauce to a Rob Gronkowski comeback. Someone just needs to get him some itch powder or something. It’s that easy.
In all seriousness, as much as every New England Patriots fan has a right to keep holding out hope that Gronk eventually feels a prolonged itch and makes his triumphant return, Gronkowski also has the right to move on with his life.
For the first 29 years of his existence on this earth, everything revolved around football for this man. Now, for the first time ever, he has the freedom and the energy to focus his attention elsewhere; no one should begrudge him that exploration. Whether it’s working as an analyst for Fox, spending more time with his girlfriend, friends, and family, or just plain doing nothing at all, Gronkowski has worked hard enough for the past three decades to warrant some serious down-time.
Moreover – and this take might not be a particularly popular one with the Patriots fanbase at large – Gronkowski is making the right choice in staying retired.
Over the past decade, Gronkowski has dealt with three separate back surgeries, ankle surgery, four different arm surgeries, a high ankle sprain, a right knee injury, a hamstring injury, a groin injury, a broken forearm, a herniated disk, a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, and at least two reported concussions – although Gronkowski himself recently suggested he’s had at least 20 during his playing career.
And these are just the injuries the general public knows about. There are probably at least twice as many ailments and medical concerns that Gronkowski played through and never mentioned to team doctors, medical staff, or the press.
Clearly, Gronkowski gave the Patriots everything he had – his heart, body, and soul – during a historic nine-year career. He sacrificed his well-being in the name of the team and for playing the game he loved, and he may have to face the consequences of that sacrifice for the rest of his life if he ever develops CTE or another serious mental or physical malady because of all the wear and tear he endured in the NFL.
As much as the sight of seeing Rob Gronkowski back in his old No. 87 jersey would send shivers of delight down the spines of thousands of adoring fans, it’s Rob Gronkowski’s own spine we should all be considerate and respectful of now. He made his decision, and he made it for all the right reasons; we owe it to Gronk and the endearing legacy he left behind to respect that decision and to support him in this next chapter of his life.