Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is Rob Gronkowski the Patriots' Mickey Mantle?

When I heard that Rob Gronkowski needed yet another surgery, this time for his back, I asked myself "Is Gronkowski going to be the Mickey Mantle of the Patriots? A guy who partied a lot then got injured a lot?" The Gronkowski narrative is starting to sound very similar. I can already hear the amateur M.D.s out there offering their unsolicited prognoses and medical advice. "If Grawnk pahtied less, if he was more sobah, we'd have two more Supahbowl rings."

The Patriots were able to draft Gronkowski because of his injuries. He fell to the 2nd round because he missed the 2009 season with a back injury. So maybe he is just injury prone. As amazingly as he's played, he's continued to get injured. And more alarmingly, get re-injured very easily. It seems to be a mixed bag with Gronkowski. Outstanding production when healthy, and long periods of absence due to injury.

Meanwhile, the internet feeds us pictures of Gronk partying with college coeds, holding a cocktail, with that big dumb grin on his face. We see videos of him dancing on broken bones. We see him hanging out with "adult actresses." We see these things as we read stories about him needing multiple surgeries, and people out there put 2 and 2 together and get 7. Even those of us who don't jump to such conclusions can't help but wonder that maybe if Gronk's social life weren't so amazingly awesome, his football life would be less riddled with injury.

Maybe there's something to that. I don't know. I'm no doctor. I also know that pictures and videos from social media can create a false impression. If all we see of Gronk is partying, then we think he parties all the time. We see him with two college girls, holding a drink, and we think he must be getting hammered and then hammering the girls. But it's just a picture.

And you know what, folks, most of these athletes live life like Gronk does. They're young, in shape, rich, and famous. Almost every girl is available to them. At all times. Most athletes Gronk's age have a very similar lifestyle.

One difference between Gronk and other athletes is he doesn't insulate himself. It seems like he'll party with anyone, take a picture with anyone. He doesn't just surround himself with a posse and sit in the VIP all night. He does that sometimes, but most of the pictures we see of him partying are out with the public. And he's the center of attention. And he loves it. I don't think he's capable of saying "no" if someone wants to take a picture with him.

Athletes partying is nothing new. Read stories about the Bruins running around town in the 70s. Imagine if there had been Instagram or Twitter when Bobby Orr and his teammates, dressed as doctors, broke into a hospital and carried an injured Phil Esposito (and his bed) to a nearby bar and drank all night. I have not seen any pictures or videos of Gronkowski that are as insane as that story.

And do you think Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky ("The Teammates") spent all their free time fishing and discussing the science of hitting?

If there had been TwitPic when Babe Ruth was downing hot dogs by the dozen, drinking gallons of beer, and neglecting his wife and children, we might not adore him so much 90 years later. I can't even imagine what Ty Cobb would tweet about. #Racist. Athletes haven't changed much. Social media has simply exposed more people to what some athletes do off the field.

Then there's Mickey Mantle, who was plagued with injury his entire career. Mickey might have been healthier if he hadn't drank so much. That same narrative is starting to be applied to Gronkowski.

And maybe the same is true for Gronk. Maybe if he lived the Tebow life he wouldn't get hurt so easily.

I think that's an overly simplistic theory, though, that is based on speculation and not fact. It's not a complete argument.

Gronk parties
Gronk gets hurt
Therefore, if Gronk didn't party, he wouldn't get hurt

I think he's just prone to injuries and always has been. Some athletes are. He has a big awkward frame and he takes some serious hits all season long. There are athletes that live harder than he does and remain healthy. There are athletes that live calmer than he does and get injured. Does Danny Amendola have a drinking problem because he's regularly hurt? Was Wes Welker a choir boy because he rarely missed games and recovered quickly?

Gronk's injuries are a problem, both for him and for the Patriots. I kind of want him to be benched until Week 10. Save him for the postseason, with a few weeks beforehand to get into the groove of the game. That's kind of silly, though. And he might get injured anyway. And he would have a longer off-season to drink more and have more sex. Which, according to the amateur M.D.s of New England, would probably give him leprosy.