One of my favorite words in the English language is “cloying.” Just ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you it’s a word I use perhaps a little too often. The infatuation is rooted in the Spanish version of the word, empalagoso, a word my mother taught me when I was younger to describe the delicious but overly sweet cheesecake she and I could eat in only small doses.
Rob Gronkowski is cloying. Don’t read into this too much. I’m a Patriots fan, actually, so the word isn’t meant to be ascribed negatively. It’s just hard to think of a better, more accurate label for the guy who in the past two days has gone from battling in a wrestling ring in Orlando to turning Fenway Park into his own personal playground.
Last offseason, we marveled at Gronk’s escapades, which included a branded party cruise, a GQ cover, and random appearances at casinos in upstate New York. And that’s after the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs — hardly something to celebrate. Who could fathom what he’d do after the miracle victory New England pulled off in the Super Bowl this year?
The answer, as expected, has gone beyond our expectation. Gronk is once again having an offseason so diverse and excessive that you almost forget he plays football. Just like he pushes the limits of what we think a tight end can do on the field, he’s regularly expanding our imagination for what an athlete can do with his off-the-field persona. These past two days are his masterpiece.
It isn’t surprising to see Gronk at WrestleMania, but let’s first ask the obvious question: How did Gronk get here?
The answer: Connections, connections, connections. Gronk is friends with wrestler Mojo Rawley, who fought Jinder Mahal in an undercard match Sunday. Gronk was sitting ringside when Mahal threw a cup of water at him after he’d gotten up to cheer on Rawley. Unsurprisingly, this led to Gronk jumping into the ring to help his friend win the match by tackling Mahal to the ground.
Gronk played only eight games this season after he suffered a back injury, which he had surgery for only four months ago. Apparently, Gronk got his WrestleMania appearance approved by the Patriots, who have signed tight end Rob Housler and traded for tight end Dwayne Allen this offseason.
It seems like an odd move for a franchise that normally runs such a tight ship. I’m not going to speculate on whether Belichick and Co. approved this stunt in order to show that Gronk’s back is perfectly fine and thereby increase his trade value. I’m definitely not going to do that.
Gronk was already back in Boston on Monday morning, ready to make an appearance at the Red Sox’s Opening Day game against the Pirates. Of course, Gronk couldn’t just throw out the opening pitch or something. He had to go viral.
Tom Brady threw out the first pitch, but Gronk stole the spotlight by snatching Brady’s previously stolen jersey. When it was discovered that a former media member was the one who swiped Brady’s jersey following the Super Bowl, I was shocked it wasn’t some elaborate prank that Gronk had concocted. It would have been very on brand for him.
Gronk has become a walking viral video, ready to burst into the social media cycle at any moment. No moment is too big for him to overshadow with a mind-bending quote or a random spurt of quizzical action. He’s excessive. He’s cloying. But in an age when professional athletes are often muted, Gronk’s a lot of fun.
Typically, athletes aren’t given this much leeway to be complete, total goofballs, but Gronk has somehow monopolized the gray area between being a Mike Trout type — always focusing on sports — and a Kim Kardashian type — always focusing on the celebrity-industrial complex. He’s the people’s player and at the very least, he keeps us asking:
What will Gronk do next?