America at Large: Pass for NFL’s Gronkowski down to success on field

When so many pros come across as dour, it’s refreshing how Gronkowski revels in his fame

New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady celebrate their side’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

At Miami’s Ultra Music Festival last weekend, 3LAU, the progressive house DJ, was in the middle of his set when the stage was invaded by a man in a neon yellow tank top and matching shorts. The interloper danced awkwardly, gurned gormlessly, and flung replicas of the No 87 New England Patriots shirt he wears for his day job into the crowd.

At one point, the 6ft 6in, 20st behemoth turned his back and began to twerk. Footage of the incident confirmed the growing belief that perhaps no professional athlete in the world is enjoying themselves more than Rob Gronkowski just now.

After catching a touchdown pass in the Patriots' defeat of the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on February 1st, the 25-year-old tight end used the subsequent victory parade to set the tone for a prolonged and ongoing bout of celebration. As a million people lined the streets of Boston, he was the undoubted star turn, chugging beer after beer, pretending to wear a bra thrown to him, and hanging precariously off the side of the vehicle ferrying the team. Imagine a larger and more demented version of Paul Gascoigne if England had won the 1990 World Cup and you get the picture.

From that afternoon onwards, Gronkowski embarked on one of the most epic partying binges in the history of American sport. We know this because almost every debauched outing of his seems to be documented and uploaded to social media. Before gatecrashing 3LAU’s performance, he hung out on a party yacht elsewhere in Miami where, surrounded by women in bikinis, he was the willing victim of a ceremonial champagne dousing. Through that and, most every other cameo, he smiled the same goofy smile that is fast becoming his trademark.


That was the look he wore when he and his brothers danced for the cameras during a Los Angeles Clippers match the other week. It was his expression when he participated in an impromptu session of dodge ball at a minor league ice hockey game, when he smashed a birthday cake into one of his siblings' faces in a Las Vegas nightclub, and when he gave an excruciating (and tipsy) interview to a television reporter on a Florida beach. It's a grin that's equal parts oversized man-child, entitled jock and unashamed party animal.

Jittery vines

To anybody privy to the draconian rules governing intercounty hurlers and footballers these days, what may be most shocking about Gronkowski’s antics is the absence of any adverse reaction to them. No matter how many jittery Vines of him go viral, his escapades are largely unremarked upon.

Aside from a few murmurs about his parade shenanigans, there's been no moral outrage at any perceived bad example he's setting for kids. There's no talk of his boss Bill Belichick going all Davy Fitzgerald and punishing him for behaving like a successful, young athlete with the world at his feet.

It just seems to be accepted that, after eight months of penitent application in pursuit of an NFL title, he's merely enjoying the trappings of fame during the off-season. In an age when so many pros often come across as dour and unhappy, it's actually refreshing how Gronkowski appears to savour every moment in the spotlight and to revel in his celebrity. Witness him calling up a radio show like an excited fan just to riff about the UFC with its commissioner Dana White.

His knack for taking off his shirt when out and about ensures all of America can see that his Bacchanalian appetites haven’t yet interfered with his supreme physical condition. Then again, he has impeccable sporting genes: a grandfather was on the United States cycling team at the 1924 Olympics and his father played college gridiron before establishing a chain of fitness outlets across New York and Pennsylvania.

Pumping iron

The family business ensured all five Gronkowski brothers were pumping iron from an early age, developing physiques that helped three make it to the NFL and another to minor league baseball. As kids, the quintet toughened each other up by playing a game, the goal of which was to try to knock each other out. Video clips of their recent nights out suggests that’s still the aim.

Some might venture Gronkowski is getting a free pass for his frat boy chicanery because Aaron Hernandez, his former Patriots' team-mate, is currently on trial for a murder committed while with the club. Against that background, Gronkowski's frolicking certainly appears to be so much harmless tomfoolery. He may also be beyond criticism because this sort of capering is expected from him – earlier in his career, he had to apologise to his employers for posing for photos with porn star Bibi Jones, shots in which she was wearing nothing but his No 87 jersey.

In American sport, players who deliver in the arena have traditionally been afforded more leeway. Gronkowski fits that profile, partying hard but always playing harder. As long as the carousing doesn’t impinge upon his ability to catch the ball while being pummelled by defenders, he will, rightly or wrongly, continue to be indulged. At least until July 15th, when the Patriots report back for pre-season training, when the so-called “Summer of Gronk” will be officially over.

Until then, all shirts are off.