I don’t think it’s groundbreaking to say that Rob Gronkowski, winner of four Super Bowls with a Hall-of-Fame plaque to follow in the coming years, has done quite well for himself. He’s more successful and famous than most of us could ever dream of, a larger-than-life figure synonymous with athletic dominance. He is, by every measure, a superstar, an instantly recognizable face in America’s most popular sport.
Gronkowski has played his hand well. He’s parlayed his fun-loving personality into a blossoming post-playing career as a media mogul and brand ambassador, monetizing his celebrity into a cottage industry of side hustles ranging from ice shakers to footlong subs. The former Patriot checks all the boxes. He’s tall, conventionally attractive and game for anything, a hard worker who, despite his portrayal as an oafish jock (never more apparent than in his one-note USAA ads), has shown to be a brilliant entrepreneur. From cameoing in 80 for Brady to his upcoming “Kick of Destiny” publicity stunt for FanDuel, Gronkowski has turned himself into a walking billboard, schilling products as indiscriminately as Shaquille O’Neal, whose endorsements include lucrative partnerships with Papa John’s, Epson printers and The General auto insurance.
In some ways, Gronkowski has never been more relevant, making frequent podcast appearances (he’s a regular guest on Up and Adams with former Good Morning Football host Kay Adams) while settling into his role as a studio analyst for Fox. As his media empire grows, almost to the point of overexposure, it’s easy to see why the 34-year-old has had so many opportunities fall in his lap. His lovable, Golden-Retriever energy comes as a welcome reprieve, breathing new life into an aging panel led by Jimmy Johnson (80) and Terry Bradshaw (75), among other silver-haired relics from a simpler time in sports broadcasting. One could easily see a scenario, years from now, where Gronk replaces Bradshaw as the group’s token wild card, embodying all the irreverent chaos and “tell-it-like-it-is” stylings of vintage Charles Barkley.
Unfortunately, Gronk, at the studio desk, is a better fit on paper than he is in real life. Typecast as a boorish meathead, the kind of shirtless ogre you’d stumble upon on Spring Break, Gronkowski has struggled to create a new identity for himself, bringing little to the table in terms of actual analysis while too often veering into cartoonish shtick. He’s neither a contrarian like Skip Bayless nor does he offer the kind of insight that makes Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Clark so refreshing, lacking the technical knowledge to teach fans about the sport they’re watching.
Gronkowski, in all likelihood, will never be as articulate as Orlovsky and Clark, both brilliant football minds with an intimate knowledge of game theory and analytics. Gronk’s proximity to the Patriots might be his greatest asset, afforded rare access to arguably the greatest sports dynasty of the 21st century. The question is whether Gronk cares to evolve as a media voice or if he’s content playing the class clown, getting by on his boyish charm and winking affinity for over-the-top antics. Similarly, you could ask if viewers would embrace that change, or if Gronkowski has dug too big a hole for himself, forever pigeonholed as football’s resident court jester.
What’s most striking about Gronk’s early Fox tenure is how little we’ve actually heard about it, creating virtually no buzz. The distinct lack of viral fanfare, save for the occasional mispronunciation or an awkward joke that fell flat, is concerning to say the least, with Fox’s doomed Gronk experiment looking flimsier by the day. Barkley, for instance, may be a curmudgeon, but he’s quick on his feet, firing off clever quips like a nuclear reactor. That’s a skill Gronk has yet to develop, though, in fairness, Fox doesn’t give its panelists nearly the same leeway to stretch their comedic wings.
There’s substantial evidence to suggest that Gronkowski, behind the scenes, is a surprisingly shrewd operator. His business savvy is well-documented—he lived off endorsement deals throughout his playing career, never spending a penny of his NFL salary. At the NFL Combine years earlier, he totaled a respectable 32 on his Wonderlic test, a score comparable to his longtime teammate Tom Brady (33). Earning a place in Brady’s circle of trust is a feat in itself, helped by a cerebral style of play that made Gronk the most complete tight end of his era, dominating not only as a receiver but also as one of the most skilled blockers to ever play the position.
Gronk, in the parlance of our time, clearly knows ball, which makes it all the more frustrating that his acumen in that regard hasn’t translated, defaulting to surface-level analysis when we know he’s capable of so much more. As you’d expect from someone who’s spent so much of his life cosplaying as an EDM-blaring frat bro, Gronkowski has had a hard time distancing himself from the character he’s adopted, playing the hits for fans who expect him to be a lumbering buffoon. Perhaps that’s because they won’t let him be anything else, too familiar with his outsized persona to acknowledge him as a legitimate analyst. The closest he comes to that is during his appearances on Up and Adams, where Gronk is at his most relaxed, enjoying an easy chemistry with Adams, a polished host who always seems to get the most out of her guests.
— Up & Adams (@UpAndAdamsShow) February 7, 2024
There, of course, exists the very real possibility that Gronk, no matter how hard he tries, will never be anything more than an ordinary announcer, treating his studio gig as another branding opportunity, staying in the public eye for as long as the sport will have him. Whereas Gronk was one of the most efficient tight ends in NFL history, he’s been a volume shooter off the field, taking a quantity over quality approach to post-football life.
Gronk’s media pursuits are a mile wide and an inch deep, a master of none who would rather hawk crypto and energy drinks than rise up the media ladder a la Greg Olsen or Tony Romo. Fox seems to be grooming him for the Bradshaw role, though it’s anyone’s guess if that would keep Gronk’s attention while he’s busy pinballing through his 30s like a toddler covered in Pop-Tart crumbs. Whatever the shiny object is, Gronk will be sure to find it, throw it at Steve Harvey’s feet (as the pearl-clutching game-show host watches in abject horror) and graffiti “69” over its shattered remains.
Of course, that’s Gronk’s prerogative. He’s a born pitchman with precisely the right temperament to move merchandise in bulk. You can scarcely turn on a television screen without seeing his spiked hair, enjoying the spectacle he’s created, an overgrown child living his absolute best life. Gronk’s goofball aesthetic doesn’t allow for much introspection and perhaps it’s better that way. If he’s not going to give us X’s and O’s, or spill the tea on what really went on in Foxboro (his theory on Bill Belichick’s unemployment is that Falcons ownership was reluctant to cede the kind of organizational control he wanted), Gronk may as well be the life of the party, an amusing—albeit low-stakes—palette cleanser offsetting the stuffiness of talking heads indoctrinated to believe their era of football was better than the one being played now.
Whether he’s squandering his broadcast potential or not is inconsequential. Like all of us as individuals, Gronk has his own personal ambitions, which might not align with our expectations for him in the media realm. The solution might be as simple as finding the right vehicle (maybe he’d be a better fit on the pro wrestling circuit or hosting a podcast with a former teammate like Julian Edelman), though as it stands now, Gronkowski, like so many other athletes-turned-pundits, isn’t adding much to the conversation.