FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has had four surgeries on his left forearm. Following one of them, the arm became infected. This wasn't some boo-boo—it was a serious, dangerous and threatening infection.
Gronkowski returned from one of his shattered arms too soon and broke it again. There was also surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. It took six weeks alone for the scar from that surgery to heal, and was his second such back surgery in four years.
None of this is stated to engender sympathy for the "Gronk," who earns tens of millions of dollars. He also isn't fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. He's a football player; he has a pretty good life.
Yet, there remains an inordinate amount of irritation with Gronkowski from inside his own locker room. As ESPN's Ed Werder reported Sunday, there is "curiosity" and "resentment" toward the tight end from teammates who see him practice well during the week then sit out the games.
One Patriots player told Bleacher Report via text that Werder's story is accurate. What the player added was he believes the main catalyst of the frustration with Gronkowski was Gronkowski's offseason misadventures.
The player put it this way: "He did everything in his power to turn himself into a media star, but when it's time to play, he's not a star?"
The criticism of Gronkowski is dramatically unfair—he's being understandably cautious. He's rushed back before, and that's how he reinjured the arm. He's looking out for himself; that is what almost everyone in professional sports does now. Coaches do it. Players do it. Teams do it. Entire leagues do it.
If he played, and broke his arm again, do you think the Patriots would pay all of his $54 million contract, of which about $18 million is guaranteed?
They would tell Gronk to go Gronk himself.
The player I communicated with does have one point, however: The problem with Gronkowski is Gronkowski himself. Sure, it's his right to party. Sure, he can act the fool. He's a young, rich athlete.
Acting like an idiot at times is a Constitutional right. But the Pats player points out the incident earlier this year where Gronkowski wrestled with a friend in Las Vegas, and while doing so, landed dangerously on that surgically repaired arm.
"He can do that, but he can't play?" the player said.
That's not an unfair point.
That's the danger of manufacturing the Gronk persona (or maybe that's how he really is). The easy part is being a knucklehead—the hard part is being a pro.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on Sunday, told ESPN Radio Sunday morning that the team was completely behind its star tight end.
"No, well, look, he's a young man that has had a number of different operations and I just want to make clear, because I know the media has a job to do, our first concern is his health and safety and doing what's in his best interest long-term," Kraft said, per Field Yates and ESPN.com.
"And he's the only one who can decide when he's ready to play, and we're completely behind whatever his decision is. Obviously all of us would like him to come as soon as possible, but we're not going to let our short-term desire impede what's right for the long-term."
Even Gronk's mom chimed in, telling the Boston Herald Rob really wants to play.
I expect Kraft to say that. I would expect mom to say that. I also expect Patriots players to publicly back Gronkowski. The Patriots just don't publicly circle the wagons; they build the wagons, and anyone who comes near gets the musket.
Players complaining about Rob Gronkowski isn't a huge problem for the Patriots, but it's not a trivial one either. Gronkowski's just clearly taking his time. On that, he can't be blamed.
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