Is Rob Gronkowski going to be the next American action hero?

Hunter Felt
The Guardian

The New England Patriots tight end has hinted he may consider retiring at the age of 28 – and there are plenty of reasons for swapping the NFL for Hollywood

<span class="element-image__caption">There’s no word on whether <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24017/" data-ylk="slk:Rob Gronkowski">Rob Gronkowski</a> will bring along his famous ‘Gronk spike should he head off to Hollywood.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images</span>
There’s no word on whether Rob Gronkowski will bring along his famous ‘Gronk spike should he head off to Hollywood. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images


Following his team’s Super Bowl loss this month, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski hinted he is contemplating retirement. It’s not entirely certain how seriously the 28-year-old is taking his decision – many believe this is merely a contract negotiation stunt – but if he does retire, the NFL’s loss could become Hollywood’s gain.

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Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who himself made the leap from wrestling to Hollywood, have been trying to convince Gronkowski to try his hand at acting, while David Arquette, who apparently is still in the industry, has even offered to produce a feature with him.

It might seem strange that Gronkowski would retire now when he is still in his prime and earning a base salary of $9m a year, but there are good reasons for him to walk away. After all, he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career – most recently a concussion in this year’s AFC Championship Game. And that concussion may weigh more heavily on Gronkowski than any injuries to his body, as extensive as they have been. It’s impossible not to play in the NFL right now without being aware of the high risk of suffering significant, permanent brain damage.

And what’s left for Gronkowski to prove in the NFL? He has two Super Bowl rings. He already holds a ridiculous number of records: most touchdowns in a season by a tight end (18 in 2011), most receiving yards in a season by a tight end (1,327), most postseason touchdowns by a tight end (9) and pretty much all of the Patriots’ team records for his position. If he never plays another snap, Gronkowski will leave the game as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, and a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

Now, the other question here is whether Gronkowski should actually try to chase his dream of being the American Jason Statham. He does have a certain charisma that few of his peers share. He’s developed a particular persona – and the suspicion is that it’s very much a persona – of a fun-loving, good natured doofus, think Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a (vaguely) human form, and has parlayed that into a side career as a commercial spokesperson. He’s already briefly appeared in the film You Can’t Have It and, like 90% of all human beings with even a remote claim to fame, appeared on Entourage.

That doesn’t mean he can act, of course. There’s a good reason that when NFL players appear in movies or on television shows, they typically play versions of themselves (for instance, Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary and Dan Marino in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective). This is mainly because those casting movies are worried that a) NFL athletes lack the range to play anything else or that b) audiences will only accept them as anyone other than themselves.

There are success stories, of course. Jim Brown, one of the game’s all-time greats, parlayed impressive turns in Rio Conchos and The Dirty Dozen into a successful career in Blaxploitation movies. Defensive back Fred Williamson followed a similar route, making his debut in Robert Altman’s classic M*A*S*H before going on to appear in everything from Black Caesar to From Dusk Til Dawn. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras famously played reformed bandit (and horse-puncher) Mongo in Blazing Saddles and went on to star as the dad in the Emmanuel Lewis vehicle Webster, ensuring that an entire generation went completely unaware that he was ever a professional athlete. Then there’s Naked Gun star OJ Simpson who ... you know what, let’s not talk about that.

Gronkowski should be careful about what he’s wishing for. While the upside to starting a movie career is having a second career while still maintaining the fame – and paychecks – that you’re accustomed to, the downside is the potential for permanent embarrassment. There’s always the chance of appearing as, say, one half of The Thing With Two Heads like Rosey Grier or accidentally starting a meme as Howie Long did during his death scene in Broken Arrow.

Maybe the most notorious example of what can happen when an athlete tries to flex acting muscles that simply don’t exist would be the story of college football star/NFL bust Brian Bosworth. After Bo Jackson ended the colorful linebacker’s career, Bosworth attempted to follow up with an action career which started in earnest with the gloriously moronic Stone Cold and ended shortly thereafter.

Still, acting would ultimately be a less punishing and dangerous activity for Gronkowski than his current occupation. Even if it doesn’t work out for him, all Gronk has to lose his dignity – and it’s not like he had much of that to begin with.

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