The TMZ tight end is at it again. Like the Patriots’ offseason, the Gronk Gone Wild tour has started earlier than we hoped.
By now, you’ve probably seen the grainy, cellphone video of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski getting his shirtless groove on at a Las Vegas nightclub called XS (as in excess) Sunday night. That’s the perfect club name for Gronkowski, who doesn’t do anything in moderation, whether it’s scoring touchdowns, lifting weights, spiking footballs, or partying like a “Real World” cast member.
There is Gronkowski on the stage with two of his buddies, wearing nothing from the waist up but a black cast on his twice-broken left forearm while gyrating like an extra from the movie “Magic Mike,” giving another meaning to the term “Vegas strip.”
The sequence goes from risible to regrettable when Gronkowski decides to go into World Wresting Entertainment mode on one of his party pals and lands on the injured forearm, the one he had surgery on Jan. 14.
He gets up pumping his arms and then staggers around the stage. You imagine him shouting over the din of the music, “Gronk rules!”
His arm is OK. His behavior is not. Gronkowski didn’t break any laws or any bones in Vegas. But his bare-chested shenanigans are growing old, even if he’s not. He has a responsibility to the Patriots, to his teammates, and most importantly to himself to make sure he doesn’t do anything that could hinder or jeopardize what looks to be a Hall of Fame career.
There are two things that can stop Gronk: injuries and himself. They crashed together on the floor of that Sin City nightclub. He walked away unscathed — this time. Instead of a reinforcement of his invincibility, the incident at XS should serve as a sobering moment of reality, like the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots clearly missed Gronkowski in their 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It’s fair to wonder whether the Duck Boats would have been rolling Tuesday if the two-ton tight end, who had 11 touchdown receptions in 11 games, hadn’t broken his forearm again in the AFC Divisional round against Houston.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a 23-year-old, red-blooded American male with fame, fortune, and free time having a good time. He shouldn’t have to cloister himself inside the gym. But when it often degenerates into an embarrassing public spectacle or, in this latest case, a situation that could endanger his health, then it’s time to put the shirt on and grow up.
It’s been all harmless fun for the gregarious Gronk up to this point, taking a photo with an adult film actress, dancing the night away at the Patriots’ post-Super Bowl party last year, showing up shirtless with a drink at a college bar in Baton Rouge during this past Super Bowl week.
Friends, teammates, and his employers largely chalk it up to Gronk being Gronk, a fun-loving force of nature.
But someday Gronkowski’s one-man Mardi Gras act will have him in commissioner Roger Goodell’s office with some explaining to do.
Excess alcohol and good decision-making have never gone hand in hand.
The Patriots don’t seem overly concerned about Gronkowski’s behavior. They don’t feel it has reached a point of being detrimental to the team or his career.
Gronkowski hasn’t been summoned or censured by the Kraft family over this latest incident. The only real reprimand of Gronkowski was issued last summer before training camp, when he was told to tone it down, the sun setting on the Summer of Gronk.
Football remains the ultimate party for him. No one in Fort Foxborough questions Gronkowski’s work ethic or commitment to football.
Earlier this year on a Patriots pregame show, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft told a story about showing up at a darkened Gillette Stadium about a week after Super Bowl XLVI. There were no coaches and no trainers, just Gronkowski all by himself, lifting weights even though he was on crutches because of the serious high-ankle sprain that limited him in the loss to the Giants.
Would the Patriots prefer not to see their transcendent tight end, the recipient of a lavish six-year, $54 million contract, dancing on a Las Vegas stage and performing wrestling moves on his friends with a fractured forearm? Yes.
But if such puerile behavior is the worst of Gronkowski’s transgressions, they’ll live with it, as long as no major damage is being done to the Patriots brand or their chances of winning another Lombardi Trophy.
But rest assured there is a line there that, if crossed, will spur the Patriots to action.
If Gronkowski puts himself in a situation in which there is drunk driving, drug use, physical violence, or allegations of sexual misconduct, the team won’t be so understanding of him living up to his self-ordained, grammatically incorrect Spanish nom de beer of “Yo soy fiesta.”
But by then it may be too late. The point should be to prevent Gronkowski’s self-indulgence from reaching the point of no return.
Getting clubs, bars, and college keg parties to institute a no-shirt, no-service policy would seemingly slow down Gronkowski.
Gronkowski is not the first professional athlete to play hard on the field and off of it. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, and Magic Johnson, to name a few, were all Hall of Fame athletes and socializers.
Tom Brady used to tear it up in his younger days, although he was more discreet.
But we live now in a technologically advanced era of celebrity overexposure and exploitation. Every smartphone is a device designed to capture stupidity. Celebrity schadenfreude is just a tweet, Facebook tag, or blog post away.
Fame provides Gronkowski with privileges and opportunities that other forever-frat guys his age don’t have.
Unfortunately, acting a fool in public without consequences simply isn’t one of them.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.