Rob Gronkowski had always been the one New England Patriots player Buffalo Bills fans could tolerate, even root for on occasion. And that was understandable because years earlier he had been one of them — a fun-loving, chicken-wing inhaling, blue-collar kid who grew up just 20 miles from New Era Field, bleeding Bills’ red, white and blue.
But their perception of him changed dramatically, perhaps irrevocably, late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game at the stadium Gronk spent so many joyful days as a fan. With one dirty play, a hometown hero became public enemy No. 1.
After tormenting his boyhood team by catching nine passes for 147 yards and helping the Patriots build a 23-3 lead, Gronkowski went temporarily insane. Frustrated over some jostling and jersey-grabbing that resulted in an interception by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, Gronkowski decided to retaliate in a most cowardly way.
Never mind that White had already been tackled and was down. Gronkowski decided to make sure he stayed down. Employing a move more suited to professional wrestling, the 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end belly-flopped onto the defenseless White and elbowed him in the head.
The dazed White had to be taken to the locker room, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. Gronkowski received a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, but, for some inexplicable reason, was not ejected.
The National Football League, which never can seem to get these things right, announced Monday Gronkowski would be suspended for one game. His agent said he would appeal.
Given that the league has a serious brain injury issue and that this was a cheap shot, the penalty needed to be more severe. At the very least, Gronkowski should have been suspended for two games, perhaps even four, in order to further emphasize that this stuff won’t be tolerated.
Gronkowski, by most accounts, is a whiny player but not a dirty one. It was nice that he apologized to White for his thuggish act in his post-game remarks. But I would have put more stock in his apology had he accepted the consequences for his actions. It’s interesting how the NFL Players Association is required to appeal on his behalf. It puts the union in an awkward spot because White is a member, too, and this was a case of one worker attacking another.
Interestingly, the one-game suspension may lighten Gronkowski’s bank account well beyond his game-day check of $271,000. See, Gronk’s 2017 contract is loaded with incentives he might not realize if he misses any of the four remaining games.
A $5.5 million escalator clause kicks in if he meets one of the following criteria: scores at least 14 touchdowns (he has seven); catches at least 80 passes (he’s at 55); accumulates 1,200 receiving yards (he has 849) or plays in 90 percent of his team’s snaps (he’s already missed one game). His best shot at earning his bonus probably would be receiving yards. He would need to average 88 per game if he played four more games. That average jumps to 117 if he plays only three games.
Forget, though, about the millions lost. I’m quite sure he’ll still be able to scrape by. The greater loss is to his reputation. That damage may be irreparable — epecially in Buffalo, where a stupid and villainous act won’t be easily forgotten.
Aaron Boone wouldn’t have been my first choice as New York Yankees manager, but I understand why he was chosen. He checks many of Brian Cashman’s boxes. The Yankee general manager wanted someone totally different from Joe Girardi who, despite his shortcomings, managed a young team to within one game of the World Series.
The affable Boone is expected to do much better with the media, an essential skill set in a town where they’ll eat you alive. Girardi’s intense, every game is life-or-death approach didn’t always play well in a youthful clubhouse. Boone is closer in age to his players and will be more understanding. And he fully embraces sabermetrics, something Girardi often resisted.
Of course, none of this stuff will matter if the Yankees don’t make the World Series in 2018. Bronx Bomber fans have stratospheric expectations. The reality is this is a young team and there could be some more growing pains before it achieves its goal.
Part of me feels badly for LaVar Ball’s boys because they had no say in choosing their father. Ball, in case you haven’t heard, has taken the stereotype of the crazed sports parent to a new low. His lunacy appears to know no bounds. He drove people nuts last year with incessant proclamations about how his son Lonzo Ball, then a UCLA freshman, was the greatest basketball player ever. Lonzo now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and LaVar’s chirping continues.
Now comes word that the father has pulled middle son LiAngelo out of UCLA because he thought he was being treated unfairly by having to serve a suspension after being jailed in China for shoplifting. “There’s no need to bring down a kid’s spirit for making a mistake,’’ LaVar said.
LaVar apparently doesn’t believe in teaching his kids there can be consequences for making mistakes. This is the same guy who got into a twitter spat with President Trump, who said he intervened during his China trip to get LiAngelo and two of his teammates out of jail.
LaVar also yanked his youngest son out of high school and is now home-schooling him. The elder Ball’s grand plan is to have his three sons play for the Lakers. Why stop there? Perhaps he can convince management to let him coach the team, too.
Rochester Business Journal sports columnist Scott Pitoniak will be signing copies of his books, including his new children’s book, “Let’s Go Yankees! An Unforgettable Trip to the Ballpark” this Saturday from 11-1 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Pittsford.