Robert Gronkowski may have just sealed the deal for parents teetering on the fence of yanking their children from youth football programs in fear of the big bad “C” word.
In the midst of NFL-threatening CTE research, Gronk proved that violence is just as much a part of football as the pigskin in a scary (and totally uncalled for) showing of aggression this past Sunday.
The Patriots were leading, their win was inevitable. But it was a game of terrible officiating by referees who looked ready to pounce on Gronk’s every misstep during the game. After flags thrown again and again against the famous TE superstar, frustrated Gronkowski took out Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White with a body slam against the ground after the play ended, resulting in (you guessed it) a Buffalo concussion.
The Buffalo crowd burst into anger. Twitter broke into an angry frenzy. Even New England head coach Bill Belichick called the play “bulls**t.” Gronk apologized after the game, and was given a one-game suspension.
Patriots fans are thrilled. While they’ve gotten by without Gronk before (does Super Bowl LI ring a bell?), this one game suspension means he’ll still get to play when the team will really need him: in 15 against Pittsburgh. This seems like a relatively fair punishment for unsportsmanlike conduct, and in any other season, NFL critics would agree with the league’s decision.
But not this season. Gronk’s one-game suspension isn’t enough when all eyes are on Commissioner Roger Goodell to take a stand against CTE and be a leader in the crusade for safer football.
Before the start of the 2017 season, Goodell joked at Jets stadium that the average NFL player lives longer than lives healthier and even five years longer than the average person, noting that the CTE study is still more questions than answers at this point.
Yet the research proves otherwise: 99 percent of former NFL players brains donated to the study have been diagnosed with CTE; 91 percent of all college football players’ brains donated have been diagnosed with CTE; and, in a stomach-turning shock, 21 percent of all high school football players’ brains donated to the study have been diagnosed with CTE.
The league can throw all the money it wants at research studies to feign concern in the CTE crisis, but at the end of the day, we need more. We need the NFL to be open its glued-shut mouth and stand in support of the players the game has wronged.
In the words of Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy, “This play was bad. And it is indefensible.” It was dangerous. It was terrifying. It was a downright dirty action that could have seriously hurt White in more ways than one. It was the cherry on top of a concussion-weary fanbase. And it was an opportunity for the league to show us that it is taking this medical crisis seriously.
A one-game suspension without pay is, well, just alright. There’s not much else that the league really could have done to Gronk besides the suspension. But they could’ve used this incident as an opportunity to finally condemn what has been bogging down the game of football for years: players with bad attitudes playing dirty.
If the NFL truly cares about the longevity of the sport, changes must be made, errors must be amended, and responsibility must be taken by each organization, starting with Goodell and making its way down to all owners, coaches and players (yes, you too, Gronk). Positive change happens when more than just one person is held accountable; positive change happens when we hold each and every NFL contributor accountable for the safety and wellbeing of each player, whether a starting QB or practice player.