Can we cut the hand-wringy, first-offender baloney with Rob Gronkowski?
Can we eliminate any and all discussions about how the Patriots’ best-of-his-era-if-not-all-time-greatest tight end is a likable guy who says funny things and has an easy, broey rapport with just about everyone he meets?
And for the love of God, let’s cease with the Power Point Presentation about how unfairly Gronk was treated this past Sunday by his hometown Buffalo Bills, who subjected the poor fella to all kinds of desperate grabs and clutches.
The only thing the Bills didn’t do was strap Gronk to a chair and make him watch “Daddy’s Home 2,” which, I hear, was cued up and ready to go had the game gone to overtime. All that matters here is that Gronkowski’s after-the-whistle, WWE-like hit on the Bills’ Tre’Davious White was a cheap shot of such magnitude that to window-dress it with testimonials about good-guy status and a lack of priors does a disservice to every NFL player who puts his health on the line every time he straps on the shoulder pads.
Late Monday Gronkowski was suspended for one game, meaning he will miss next Monday night’s fun and easy victory over the Dolphins in Miami.
He got off easy.
Ridiculously, shockingly easy.
Anyone who watches professional football — and millions upon millions of us do, and with great fervor — has undoubtedly made a bargain with the brutal, barbaric nature of the game. Before continuing, it’s important that we agree on that. Brutal. Barbaric. Right? Where we make the bargain is in recognizing that the players, too, understand the harsh realities of football.
There’s a line in the film “Airplane” in which a character tricked out as a knockoff of the late conservative commentator James J. Kilpatrick says, “They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ‘em crash.” Save for the part about anyone wanting professional football players to “crash,” it’s a very funny line that fits nicely with this very serious topic.
The players do know what they’re getting into, and that’s our guilt-free pass. It allows us to watch the games without feeling we’re contributing to a player’s daily dalliance with everything from chronically bad knees to CTE. We can place bets, assemble a fantasy team and then kick back and watch the games, and do so with the satisfaction that the players want us on that couch, need us on that couch.
But if we’re going to make our peace with football’s necessary violence, we need to make war with its unnecessary violence. And what Gronkowski did to Tre’Davious White in the fourth quarter of the Pats’ 23-3 victory over the Bills at New Era Field merits a bold-type check mark on the “unnecessary violence” side of the ledger.
Gronk’s after-the-whistle slice of mayhem occurred with 4:50 remaining in the game, the Patriots ahead by 20 points — making it a three-possession deficit for the Bills. In other words, while we all agree that hard hits can be strategic and game-changing, this hard hit was neither. There was nothing strategic about it, nothing game-changing about it, and, while we’re at it, nothing artistic about it.
There are times when a player’s in-game misdeeds are eventually looked upon with a tinge of nostalgia. Look up any video appreciation of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski and you’ll eventually come to the part where Yaz, enraged with the ump’s called strike three, squats down and covers home plate with dirt, plops his helmet on the mess and then walks away as the ump (it was the late Lou DiMuro) is ejecting him.
When the day comes that Gronk retires and the Pats are playing the obligatory teary-eyed career-highlights video on the end zone flat screens, do you think the hit on Tre’Davious White will make the cut?
Of course not. It was embarrassing, and, of more importance, it was dangerous. It’s not unlike that time at Camden Yards in Baltimore when Red Sox slugger David Ortiz used a bat to smash a dugout telephone, which may have seemed cool at first glance except that pieces of wood were flying everywhere and teammate Dustin Pedroia was sitting just a couple of feet away.
At that moment, Ortiz’ status as Red Sox goodwill ambassador was irrelevant.
At this moment, with Big Papi’s fellow Dunkin Donuts pitch man, it’s even worse. Ortiz wasn’t aiming his wrath at another person in an attempt to cause injury, which is what Gronkowski was doing.
You can make your peace with the dangerous plays that happen in a football game, because that’s what the players have done.
But this? There’s only so much that can be done to make football less barbaric, but multi-game suspensions for episodes such as we saw on Sunday are a good place to start....Read more