Comparing the Gronkowski and NFL statements after he knocks a player into next week

In Sunday’s football game, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski smashed his 265-pound body onto Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White when White was already down on the sidelines, causing a likely concussion. Gronk talked to reporters after the game, and the NFL made a statement as it suspended him for one game. We’ll compare the two statements.

Here’s the context for Gronk’s hit on White. Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots’ most explosive player on offense, and he claims that the Bills players were holding and hassling him all day long, although the refs didn’t call any penalties. At the time of the play, New England was ahead 23-3 in the fourth quarter and clearly on its way to a win. White had just intercepted a New England pass and was knocked down on the sidelines when Gronkowski heaved himself onto the cornerback, elbowing White’s head to the turf. After the play, the refs penalized Gronkowski for the late hit and White left the game so that trainers could evaluate him for a head injury in the NFL’s concussion protocol. There’s no question that the play was a dirty and dangerous play, and it’s quite apparent that Gronkowski deliberately hit a defenseless player who was already down. It’s worth pointing out that as an offensive player, Gronkowski rarely has to tackle other players. Watch the play yourself:

Gronkowski says “I’m sorry” after the game

Here’s what Gronkowski told reporters in the locker room after the game.

First off, I definitely want to apologize to number 27. I’m not in the business of that. It was a lot of frustration and I was just really frustrated in that moment. It just happened naturally through emotions, frustration and I just want to apologize to Tre’Davious White.

He followed this up with complaints about the officials, in response to reporters’ questions.

This is an athlete, not a corporate spokesperson, but everyone is responsible for their actions. In this case, Gronk apologized directly to the player he hit. He explained himself as well, although being frustrated with officials is not a sufficient justification for piling on a player who’s clearly down. Gronkowski has appealed his suspension, which is stupid; the NFL is not going to reverse itself, the video clearly shows that the hit is a dirty play, and failing to get calls from officials is no excuse. While this statement shows very little remorse, at least it sounds like it’s coming from a human.

The NFL limits itself to technicalities in its suspension letter

Here’s the release that the NFL issued about the suspension.

ROB GRONKOWSKI of the New England Patriots has been suspended without pay for one game for a violation of unnecessary roughness rules in Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

NFL Vice President of Football Operations JON RUNYAN issued the suspension for multiple violations of NFL rules, including Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6 which prohibits ‘unnecessary roughness’ and specifically bans both ‘forcibly contacting a runner when he is out of bounds,’ and ‘running, diving into . . . or throwing the body against or on a player who (1) is out of the play or (2) should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent, before or after the ball is dead,’ as well as Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 which prohibits ‘initiating unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.’ Players who are ‘on the ground’ are both ‘defenseless’ and protected from ‘forcible’ hits to the ‘head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder.’

In his letter to Gronkowski, Runyan wrote:

‘Your actions were not incidental, could have been avoided and placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of “eliminating” flagrant hits that have no place in our game. Those hits include the play you were involved in yesterday.’ ​

Gronkowski will be eligible to return to the Patriots’ active roster on Tuesday, December 12 following the team’s December 11 Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the suspension may be appealed within three business days. Appeals are heard and decided by either DERRICK BROOKS or JAMES THRASH, the officers jointly appointed and compensated by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals of on-field player discipline.

This is bloodless. I understand the need to use precise legal language and cite rules, but as criticism goes, “Your actions were not incidental, could have been avoided and placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury,” is divorced from the collision of elbow and head that knocked a defenseless White into next week.

Imagine what a more honest statement might have looked like:

Football is a violent game, but it has rules. Rob Gronkowski broke one of those rules, and did so in a way that was sufficiently embarrassing that we had to take some kind of action.

We will be suspending Gronkowski for one game, but he should be back in time for the climactic matchup between the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is important to all of us.

Here’s what Gronk did wrong:

  • He hit a player that was already down, out of bounds, and defenseless.
  • He used his body to smash a player half his size and elbow him in the head.
  • He failed to hide his intent, so everyone could see that he did it on purpose.
  • He complained about the refs later.

With all the attention on concussions and players suffering long-term traumatic brain damage, the last thing we need is to see hits like this repeated endlessly on television. We would prefer to keep the violence in the course of normal plays on the field where there is at least some illusion that the players know what they’re in for.

What would result in more than a single-game suspension? Do you really want to know? I’ll give you a hint: it would have to involve violence against a woman who was not wearing shoulder pads or a helmet at the time.

Please don’t appeal this suspension. It won’t make any difference, but it will make you look even worse than you already do.

Don’t expect to read that any time soon.

Things are going to get worse in the NFL

NFL ratings are down. The management is going to continue to have a hard time drawing a line between normal on-field violence and illegally extreme violence. If the league removes too much violence, the fans lose interest. If they allow too much, no mother will allow her child to play and be subject to potential brain damage. So look for more symbolic gestures like this in cases where the violence is easier to spot.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. I already do not allow my son to play football. After spending hours in the hospital waiting for the results of a CT scan from a fall at the playground. No. Football is exciting to watch – I agree. But not worth it in my mind. Plenty of other sports! And I truly feel he should have been suspended for a longer period of time.

  2. Football and its fans have some serious soul-searching to do: Does the sport owe anything to its retired players, and the long-term results of crushing play? Is that simply part of the pay package (assuming a playaer gets to the level of being paid for such damage)? Easier to not think about it. Pass the nachos and beer.

  3. It is going to get worse. The men who continue to play football are, unfortunately, going to be more and more those who have fewer options. It will mirror boxing, where getting your brain beat in for the chance at big money will be preferable to a life with few other choices. It’s infusing the sport with the “me” attitude that is ingrained in popular culture. Players seem to take everything personally, rather than realize they are playing a team game. I think that will accelerate the decline of the NFL, evidenced by the recent fights and retaliatory hits like this one. That, plus the greed and arrogance of this business that – of course – refers to itself as “The League.”
    Come play baseball: longer careers and you generally get to keep your brains.

  4. Why do we give the NFL and a specific player exemptions from the law?
    Felony assault appears to have been committed on camera and concussion is not a trivial injury; an ‘apology’ may be in order but it does not change the facts and the NFL’s position does not deal with the basic problem.
    Football players are accorded admiration and rewarded for their skill – they are role models in many was and as such should be held to a standard of conduct at least consistent with ordinary social behavior outside the narrow confines of the game.

  5. In Australia, suspension is part of all of our major football codes. For both Rugby codes, there are international standards for suspensions ranging from time of field during play (the sin bin – similar to hockey) to being sent off. There are also reportable offences which go to the post-match committee for review and potential further penalty; both financial and suspendable. In the ultimate, suspension from the game itself – forever. This is also the case with Australian Rules football, although there is no send-off rule. Even soccer allows for yellow and red cards. Once you are sent off, or red-carded, the entire team is penalised as that player cannot be replaced on field. The team continues one player down. So, why is the NFL so scared to implement such policies. I suspect simply $$. Moneyball in the true sense.