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COMMENTARY| New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is not only one of the best at his position, but one of the top players in the NFL, period. Unfortunately, his career has also been marked by a series of immature and disruptive behavior, and it's a fair question to ask how much longer his team can tolerate his increasingly tired act.
The 24-year-old Gronkowski rapidly developed into a star after the Patriots made him their second-round draft choice in 2010 out of the University of Arizona. In his three-plus years in New England, he has caught 206 passes for 2,947 yards and 39 touchdowns, while earning two Pro Bowl nods.
He has also suffered through some injuries, most noticeably undergoing multiple surgeries last offseason on his arm and back that caused him to miss the first six games of this season. Now back on the field, he has been as productive as ever, posting 19 catches, 284 yards and a score in three games.
An unrepentant wild child, in between his exploits on the field, Gronkowski has earned numerous headlines off it-while presumably causing great embarrassment to the Patriots.
Most recently, a video was published by TMZ Sports showing him making racially insensitive comments to an Asian fan sporting his jersey at an event at a Foxboro bar. As this makes the rounds, it isn't likely to be simply swept under the rug, especially in light of the explosion of attention being paid to NFL culture thanks to the Richie Incognito controversy.
Gronkowski's comments are only exacerbated by an ongoing string of boorish behavior.
In 2011, photos were posted of him and a well-known porn star who was wearing his jersey, which became a national story. He later apologized for the distraction and embarrassing the organization.
In 2012, just hours after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, he was filmed at a nightclub engaged in unbridled shirtless dancing. He was skewered in the press, especially by former New England player Rodney Harrison, who called out the tight end for what he believed to be inappropriate behavior in light of the circumstances.
After posing nude for the 2012 ESPN the Magazine's "Body Issue," the Patriots reportedly told their wild child tight end to tone things down.
The warning didn't seem to change much, as a story by Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard came out later that year, detailing among other things, how Gronkowski was paid significant money to attend and shotgun beers at a person's 21st birthday party.
Proving to be an aficionado of shirtless dancing, Gronkowski was caught on camera again in early 2013 while at a nightclub. Wearing a cast on his left forearm that had caused him to miss part of the 2012 season, including being shut down early, he was seen slamming the injured appendage multiple times while pantomiming wrestling moves with a friend.
As the early games of this season went by without a sign of Gronkowski on the field, it was reported by multiple outlets that some teammates questioned the severity of his injuries and his desire to play. The story went away once he returned but was a major distraction and may have never come up if not for his exaggerated lifestyle off the field.
Following former Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez's arrest for murder, it would be easy to say what Gronkowski is doing can be excused as simply harmless and immature. After all, he is young, rich and a widely recognized public figure enjoying his fame. However, he owes New England a much greater measure of responsibility.
The Patriots signed Gronkowski to a six-year, $54 million extension last year, making him the highest-paid tight end in the history of the NFL. His mammoth salary and status as team star and one of the primary faces of the franchise make improved behavior a necessity.
Barring more serious incidents, the Patriots aren't going to cut Gronkowski. However, if he continues his troubling trend of getting himself in the news for the wrong reasons, the team should start discussing punitive measures to get him to take his responsibilities more seriously.
There have been many worse individual actions by NFL players that have made headlines over the years, and it's hard to peg Gronkowski as a truly bad guy (yet). He simply needs to realize he is in a position of great privilege and responsibility, and handle it a lot better than he has so far.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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