The Trouble With Allowing Gronk to Be Gronk
Were we supposed to laugh at what New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said last month about Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz at a celebrity roast for Big Papi’s charity, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund?
Is this the joke you told, the one directed at the event’s host, comedian Josh Wolf: “You wanna know why Jews do play football? To get their quarter back, you cheap f---”?
An anti-Semitic joke, in 2017? How topical. Is it any wonder then that the New England Sports Network, the regional broadcast home of Ortiz’s Red Sox, scrubbed its plans to re-air the roast?
And what, moreover, are we as a football loving society supposed to do now? Do we just ignore the four-time Pro Bowler’s ugly remarks, and just chalk them up to Gronk being Gronk?
Gronkowski, who turned 28 in May, is entering his eighth season in the NFL and is the premier tight end in the game. But this, of course, is offseason Gronk.
Is the offseason version of Gronkowski his truest self? The man from “Gronk’s Party Ship” cruise, the avatar for male overindulge and crass objectification? Off the field he has developed the character of the party animal so well that it has seemingly become a caricature: a hulking man that stands six feet six inches tall, pouring beer all over himself while shirtless at the Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl victory parade.
Does the same standard of maturity not apply evenly throughout the NFL? Is Gronkowski’s poor attempt at humor any worse than Odell Beckham Jr.’s now-infamous boat party trip, or Cam Newton’s bad post-Super Bowl loss press conference? Only Gronk escapes without a prolonged sports-media scolding, instead earning wry smiles and knowing nods.
Since we all assume Gronkowski to be capable only of sophomoric, ignoble humor, when he tells an offensive joke, does it really count? This is exactly the kind of joke he would tell, isn’t it?
Gronkowski is therefore given a pass for telling an awful joke, one steeped in decades of ugly ignorance and hatred, simply because we hold such low expectations of this loutish pro athlete. But why?
Should it really matter that the Pro Bowler made these remarks at a roast, a venue for off-color and politically incorrect humor? America’s most beloved and well-known meathead was surely within his rights, some might add, to say whatever he would like at a charity comedy roast. “Haven’t you heard of Don Rickles?” some might ask.
However, in the case of Rickles, we all knew that the comedic legend understood what his words meant. There was no hint of actual animus from Mr. Warmth behind his penchant for turning stereotypes into comedic barbs. Do we know this to be true of Mr. Gronkowski?
This isn’t the first time Gronkowski has put his foot in his mouth, however. In 2013, he referred to an Asian-American fan as “Leslie Chow,” Ken Jeong’s character from the 2009 comedy “The Hangover,” adding, “They told me he could only cook fried rice.”
For this gross faux pas Gronkowski at least acknowledged his mistake: “I feel bad, personally … and I apologize to those who took offense.”
Why does Gronk get away with this? What is it about this particular athlete-turned-celebrity that earns so many indifferent shoulder shrugs?
What makes this episode so striking is that this tired, anti-Semitic cliche masquerading as humor was met with laughter. This eye roll-inducing joke was deemed tolerable enough when uttered by one of the faces of America’s biggest sport.
We let Gronk Be Gronk because deep down many wish they too could be Gronk. They wish that they too could be so unimpeded by the shackles of maturity; free from the consequences of committing societal misdeeds.
Gronkowski fills a void felt by many fans and followers across the country -- those who watch and cheer with envy for a star who is unencumbered by the norms of society, or even basic decency.