Rob Gronkowski’s concussions admission should alarm NFL

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after an injury in the second quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after an injury in the second quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Unless he’s drastically exaggerating, Rob Gronkowski’s revelation that he suffered around 20 concussions during his career is extremely troubling.

Rob Gronkowski has enjoyed messing with the emotions of New England Patriots fans since he unexpectedly decided to hang up his cleats and call it a career last March. Whether it’s posting cryptic tweets with the eyeballs emoji, teasing major announcements in the future, or joking around that he’ll return to the team in Week 14 of this season, Gronk seems to love the chaos he can so easily create in this restless, rabid fanbase.

But on Thursday, CBS News aired an interview with Gronkowski in which the retired tight end told anchor Reena Ninan all about what it’s like to play professional football, per CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker. While he didn’t necessarily sound bleak or remorseful discussing the ample history of debilitating injuries he suffered playing the game he loves, he also didn’t sugarcoat that history either for viewers.

“I would let my son play football, but first I’d educate him on the game,” Gronkowski informed Ninan. “[I would] educate him on what I went through, and I truly believe that any injury you receive is fixable, though. I mean, I went through it. I had nine surgeries and probably had, like, 20 concussions in my life — no lie. I remember five blackout ones.”

That’s an extremely cringe-worthy admission if it’s a true one. And while Gronkowski has been known throughout his professional career to be a bit of a fun-loving goofball, and he’s certainly admitted to toying with the public’s emotions with all this retirement/comeback stuff… he sounded deathly serious when he gave those numbers out as statistical facts during the interview.

As Walker notes in his report, Gronkowski errs in suggesting that all injuries are fixable.

“There is evidence the human brain never heals from concussion trauma,” Walker states, which is supported by all the recent research and studies that have linked concussions in the NFL to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The idea that playing football – even for just a short amount of time – can lead to a lifetime of brain damage and emotional mood swings is indeed a frightening notion to consider… and it’s far from a novel concept in 2019, either.

Starting in 2011, the NFL started employing independent athletic trainers in all games, whose sole specific job it was to spot concussion-like symptoms in players during live action. If these spotters identified a player who exhibited any such symptoms after a big hit or collision, they were to immediately radio in to referees and team medical staff to stop play and escort that player off the field for further testing in the league’s concussion protocol.

Gronkowski entered the league in 2010, just one year before these new heightened regulations and reforms were implemented by the NFL in the name of player safety. He then proceeded to play in 131 regular season and playoff games between 2010 and 2018.

According to NESN’s Mike Cole, Gronkowski had just two instances of concussions properly diagnosed, reported, and documented by both team and league medical staff (and these independent concussion spotters) during that nine-year NFL career.

Yet Gronkowski himself says he suffered at least 10 times that many concussions over the years.

So why doesn’t the math add up?

Speaking of math, by Gronkowski’s own injury history admission as well as his full career statistics, he averaged around one concussion every 6.5 games he played in the NFL. That means playing for a team like the Patriots – who went as far as the conference championship game in eight of Gronk’s nine years in the league – Gronkowski averaged about three concussions per season.

Sure, he also missed a ton of games during his NFL career… but does that really make this situation any better? When Gronkowski wasn’t suiting up, he was on the sidelines, in the X-ray room, back in the locker room, or rehabilitating at home, tending to a whole range of injuries to his back, his arm, his leg, his head, and every other part of his body.

Make no mistake – injuries are part of the NFL. They always have been, and they always will be, as long as human beings are the ones playing the gridiron game and not robots or cyborgs. These are all full-grown men exercising their own free will; presumably, none of them were forced into playing football at gunpoint or anything.

On the plus side, they all have an opportunity to make millions of dollars in their lifetime and have their names etched forever in history. On the minus side, they could end up paralyzed, chronically depressed, brain-dead, or even actually dead. It’s a choice that every football player has to make for himself every time he steps onto a field.

Gronkowski made his choice. He played as long as he wanted to play, and when he decided he didn’t want to play any more, he walked away. If he does end up returning to the game at some point in the future, that’s certainly his prerogative… and no doubt the Patriots and their fans would welcome him back with open arms.

dark. Next. The Pats aren't planning to fix the Rob Gronkowski trophy dent

But if what he’s saying is accurate about the disparity between the number of concussions he experienced and the number that were actually properly reported and treated, the NFL should be extremely alarmed.

Yes, they’ve taken concrete steps over the past decade or so to try and cut down on player concussions. But if Gronkowski is to be believed, what they’ve done isn’t nearly enough. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the NFL – and perhaps even the Patriots – failed Gronkowski in this regard, even if he would never be the first one to say it out loud.

The best and really the only way to make up for it? Make sure it never happens again to another player.

Your move, NFL.