In the Internet Age, monoculture is unachievable. But there remain a few things that we can all agree on. The Ringer is looking at this rarefied group all week. These are our Undeniables.
Few roles are harder to pull off than lovable jock, because there’s a fine line between gregarious high-fiver and too-cool-for-school: A.C. Slater managed it, but he wasn’t so different from the jerk in The Karate Kid; Emilio Estevez had his moments in The Breakfast Club, but the quintet in Revenge of the Nerds did not.
The most famous NFL players often resemble ’80s TV or movie tropes when they try to craft their personas, and two inescapable real-life football jocks are currently illustrating how differently the tightrope act can go. One is J.J. Watt, whose summer of award-show hosting, concert-going, and candid photo–taking has been soundly rejected by fans and the media alike. One photo of Watt wearing a U.S. soccer jersey even led to a spat between Watt and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio after Florio compared Watt to a “Kardashian.”
The other jock perpetually on our screens is Rob Gronkowski, whose Summer of Gronk routine has been in full swing each offseason since 2012, and who continues to win admirers despite playing in an era in which stars are routinely criticized for unconventional behavior. It’s not scientific, but it certainly feels like Gronk is the NFL player closest to a 100 percent approval rating among fans.
Unlike Watt, who constantly appears to be in control of his image, there’s next to no evidence that Gronkowski does anything but the most fun thing he can do at a given moment. Which leads to things like this:
It also once led to Gronk famously saying “Yo Soy Fiesta” to a spanish-speaking reporter:
Part of the comedy of that interview was how overwhelmed and helpless he looked when the conversation began, and that’s true for the wider Gronk experience: He’s never too cool, but he’s always utterly and unapologetically himself.
When he was asked before the Patriots’ Super Bowl matchup against the Seahawks why he gets so much attention for partying, he answered “Because I’m a baller,” before issuing a loud and nervous laugh. He then asked, somewhat shyly, “Is that a good answer?” He’s free, unhindered by the desire to carefully craft his persona. Compare Gronk to teammate Tom Brady, who once launched into a cliché-ridden answer when a parody sportswriter asked a question as if he was a 1920s reporter:
In May, Gronk was GQ’s coverboy, and the accompanying profile referred to him as the “reigning meat prince of partying.” Before earning that accolade, Gronk hosted a cruise party in February, sparking the most profound use of anonymous sources in journalism history, including in this hilarious Boston Globe example:
And yet he’s largely avoided taking any heat. In an era in which Cam Newton is criticized for being angry after losing the Super Bowl and Aaron Rodgers is ripped for his snap counts, Gronk’s Party Cruise keeps sailing smoothly. When Gronk’s antics have met with the occasional smattering of criticism — his shirtless partying in 2013 earned some column inches — those reactions have netted mere shrugs from the public.
Gronk gets away with so much because he is, in technical terms, a complete and total goofball. He’s right out of central casting, and wouldn’t even have to change his name to play a lovable movie jock.
He’s also not alone: Gronk has an army of brothers who all bro out as much as he does, and embrace being their true selves at all times: As Bill Simmons once revealed and Gronk’s brother Chris later confirmed, the Gronkowski brothers once engaged in a “sword fight” at the ESPYs. In his incredible book It’s Good to Be Gronk, Gronkowski explained that he and his brothers don’t do drugs because “we don’t need to. We have so much energy and are so fired up just to party among ourselves that whether there is alcohol or not, we jump at the chance to get wild and start dancing to the extreme.” The gentleman who drives Gronk’s party bus is named “Robert Goon.” Gronkowski was in the Entourage movie because he’s a living, breathing, walking Entourage movie. “In our next lives, a lot of people might want to be Gronk,” his team’s owner, Robert Kraft, once said.
Though he became a household name in 2011 when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards, Gronk didn’t claim the championship belt of charmingly unhinged athletes until the following year. When the Patriots were in London in 2012, Gronk celebrated a touchdown with a Magic Mike dance, then marked another score by paying homage to the Queen’s Guard. After the game, Gronk referred to the guards as “the little Nutcracker dude, guarding the house,” then fessed up to doing it all because teammate Chandler Jones had convinced him to. It’s easy to imagine that Gronk, like all lovable goofballs, can be talked into just about anything with the most minor of nudges.
In July of 2012, the Boston Globe wrote that “Gronkowski has been told by the team that his summer of Gronk, so to speak, is over.” But part of Gronkowski’s charm is that when he eventually has to be an adult and go to work, his personality still finds a way to shine through. Even under the weight of the ultra-boring “Patriot Way,” Gronk is still Gronk. When he’s forced to attempt the corporate speak for which the rest of his teammates are famous, he flails, leading to an in-season press persona that the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay described as sounding like “the guy you send in to talk to the parents while the rest of you steal a case of beer from the fridge.”
The latest Summer of Gronk will have to conclude soon, but in many ways, Gronk is living an endless summer. He is party.