Why can't Rob Gronkowski just be a gladiator? Back in the golden days of football, players were men and would still play even without any limbs. Who cares if Gronkowski's risking a possible career-ending injury? His team needs him.
That's about the general consensus of the critics who argue that the star tight end should already have returned by now. It's not even coming from fans anymore, either. ESPN's Ed Werder reported that there are people inside the New England Patriots organization wondering why he hasn't gotten back on the field:
Tight end Rob Gronkowski's continued absence from the New England Patriots' lineup has escalated tension among teammates who have begun questioning him about why he's not playing and left some wondering if he intends to play at all this season, according to multiple sources.
"There's curiosity and resentment, and he's creating it by going out and kicking ass during the week and then he doesn't show up on game day and help the team win," one source said.
There really shouldn't be any curiosity at this point. The fact is that Gronkowski hasn't actually gotten medical clearance to play yet, at least as of Saturday, via ESPN's Adam Schefter.
If the doctors aren't allowing Gronk to play, there's not much that can be done. Teams aren't going to go against doctors' orders, not with the concussion problem still looming so large.
With that in mind, it's hard to see why Gronkowski would be criticized at all.
He's not sitting back home on Sunday because he's lazy or still harboring a hangover from that crazy party on Saturday night. Clearly there's still an issue with the tight end's forearm, or he would have been back on the field right now.
But why not? Let's throw him back on the field with an existing injury. That won't end badly, right? It's not like the Patriots have been down this road before.
Except that they have. With Gronkowski.
Per WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia:
WEEI.com has learned from multiple industry sources that the arm, injured initially on Nov. 18, 2012, against the Colts, might have healed properly on its own with no surgery necessary. But the team and Gronkowski, perhaps looking to hasten his return to the field, decided upon surgery to use an implement in hopes he would be ready for the playoffs.
Gronkowski returned in the 2012 season finale and caught a touchdown pass, but he re-injured the arm two weeks later in a win over the Texans and was unavailable against the Ravens in the AFC championship.
Gronkowski has had multiple surgeries on that forearm and seen what happens when he gets back to game action too soon. He doesn't want to travel down this road before.
In a way, the worst thing that could have happened for players is that Adrian Peterson returned from his torn ACL and MCL in what felt like record time. And he just so happened to run for 2,097 yards and win MVP.
Now fans expect their stars to return to the field ahead of their injury timetable and have almost no drop in form, as if that's just the norm now.
Speaking about Peterson's injury, orthopedic surgeon Michael Jablonski said it was a unique case, via Yahoo! Sports Eric Adelson:
"Adrian Peterson is not a normal person," he says. "His body, it's just different."
Apparently others in his field are just as awed. Jablonski attended a conference of orthopedic surgeons this summer and "Adrian Peterson" came up in what seemed like every other sentence.
"We were all talking about that," he says. "Someone like Adrian Peterson, it puts a standard up there that's almost unrealistic. He was back [training] in four months. It's just not realistic."
The criticism toward Gronkowski also rings a bit hypocritical.
Fans and players alike were probably sickened by what they saw in the League of Denial documentary. You worried about player safety and whether enough is being done to prevent injuries. And yet, here's a player who's being kept out for health reasons and possibly catching flak from his own fans and teammates.
You can't have it both ways. You can't feign concern for the players and then question a player when he wants to take his time getting back from an injury.
Make fun of Gronkowski's partying all you want. The fact of the matter is that he's an extremely hard worker; otherwise he wouldn't have become the best tight end in the NFL. He'll likely be itching to get back to the field, whenever that happens.
But he's not going to jeopardize his career for a couple of weeks in the regular season. Why is there anything wrong with that?