Andy Kirkaldy: Gronk leaves on his own terms, as he should

Ah, Gronk, we’ll miss you.
It wasn’t a surprise New England Patriots sure-fire Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski hung it up.
After all, he’s had four arm surgeries, three back surgeries, and one procedure each on a knee and an ankle.
Enough is enough. Anyone who has followed Gronk knows Gronk wants to have fun.
Gronk loves to play football. But also to dance. And go on party cruises. And forget to wear shirts.
I know I can’t speak to the level of pain Gronk already experiences, but it’s certainly hard to have fun doing all that other stuff if you’re hurting all the time. Or maybe I should say if he’s already hurting more than he no doubt is now.
Even if Gronk chooses WWE wrestling, as is rumored, at least the mayhem is choreographed. He doesn’t have to worry about some psycho safety taking another cheap shot at his knees or head, or a lineman rolling over his leg awkwardly in a goal-line pile-up.
So good on the big lug for deciding enough is enough. Gronk doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in his nine years. Nobody with the least bit of objectivity doubts he is the best tight end to have played in NFL history, at least at his peak health. He blocked like a snowplow, ran like a hybrid deer-rhino, and caught damn near everything he could reach.
All with a certain joy, with booming spikes and knocking helmets in the end zone, followed by almost delicate dance moves, often back on the sideline among his teammates.
Gronk never really complained about the marginal tactics defenders used against him, the grabbing, the illegal and late hits.
But every now and then Gronk would get angry. Defensive back Sergio Brown held and interfered with him once too often, and maybe just should have shut up. Gronk responded by pile-driving Brown 30 feet off the field into a cameraman.
“(Brown) was just yappin’ at me the whole time,” Gronkowski said. “So I took him and threw him out of the club.”
It’s no secret the Patriots are not popular around the country or in the league, but Gronk … Most everybody likes Gronk. Rivals like J.J. Watt and Le’Veon Bell tweeted out respect, as did safety Jamal Adams from the New York Jets, who came up with this:
“An absolute honor to line up and compete against the greatest Tight End ever! Congratulations to a true professional on an amazing career! Luv #President.”
A couple other things should be known about Gronk.
Despite the goofball persona, nobody looks like Gronk without being a dedicated athlete. Sure, he cut loose and partied in the public eye every now and then, but for every one of those moments there were thousands in the gym, especially if he had to recover from nine surgeries. Nobody does that without hard work.
Also, Gronk is no dummy. According to multiple reports he lives on his endorsement money and has banked the roughly $53 million, minus taxes, the Patriots have paid him to play football.
He should be OK until Social Security kicks in, sadly unlike many athletes.
Finally, it’s great to see Gronk go out on his own terms. Never mind the Patriots, they’ll figure things out, they always do. After all, they won one of those three Super Bowls while Gronk was sidelined with an injury.
Gronk is young, 29, as healthy as he’s ever going to be and smart enough to find other things to do — he’d love an acting career, and if Dolph Lundgren can do it, why not Gronk?
All professional athletes should go out when they want, not when fans or sports writers — some of whom are much too fond of advising athletes when to retire — want them to.
If like Gronk, Jim Brown or Barry Sanders, they decide not to squeeze out a few more years, good on them.
If, like Willie Mays, Ichiro Suzuki or Peyton Manning, they keep playing as long as someone will cut them a paycheck, well, more power to them, too.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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