In a post-Luck world, Gronk is uniquely positioned to improve athletes' health care

NEW YORK – There’s no way Rob Gronkowski could have predicted Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement when he scheduled a news conference to announce a CBD product partnership, but that doesn’t make the timing any less apropos or important.

Three days after the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback decided the brutal discomfort of constant rehabilitation was enough to walk away from a potential Super Bowl contender, a “pain-free” Gronkowski revealed that he was partnering with CBD Medic while advocating for the NFL and other sports leagues to allow alternative treatments for players.

Two of the best to play their respective positions, Gronkowski and Luck both left football before their 30th birthday due to a list of injuries nearly as long as their accomplishments.

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“I love the game, I respect the game of football,” Gronkowski told Yahoo Sports. “If you can’t give your all to the game, it’s better to leave than to be fighting against it and not be able to enjoy the game.”

While Gronkowski, coming off his third Super Bowl victory, was celebrated when he announced his decision, Luck was showered with boos from fans at Lucas Oil Stadium once news broke Saturday night.

“It wasn’t good to see that situation,” Gronkowski said. “I don’t think that was appropriate. Maybe they don’t understand what Andrew Luck was going through because he’s a quarterback. You still do take the big hits, it’s mentally and physically draining.

Rob Gronkowski is becoming a key player in the ongoing fight for alternative treatments for athletes. (AP)
Rob Gronkowski is becoming a key player in the ongoing fight for alternative treatments for athletes. (AP)

“Everyone saw the hits I was taking at the tight end position, so everyone could feel for me. I truly understand that you’re a tough SOB no matter what position you’re playing in the NFL. It takes mental and physical toughness. If anything, I think that it’s unbelievably strong to do what he did and help his health out.”

In light of Gronkowski’s comments on Luck and his announcement Tuesday morning, the former Patriots star is becoming a key player in the ongoing fight for athletes’ health care — both during and after their careers. Gronkowski went into great detail about the Super Bowl LIII injury that made him realize it was time to walk away from the game, his “goodbye present from the NFL.”

“I was at the point where I was just trying to get through games, just get through practice,” Gronkowski said. “When you’re doing that, it’s not enjoyable. You’re suffering, you’re just trying to get through it and not enjoying the process. I’m not even really looking forward to ever possibly playing again.”

Whether or not he plays again, Gronkowski can perhaps make the biggest impact by speaking for his peers. Few players, past or present, have the crossover appeal and star power that Gronkowski does, evidenced by TMZ attending his announcement Tuesday and speculation over him potentially participating on “Dancing With the Stars” and in WWE.

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There’s a stark difference between being Andrew Luck and being Rob Gronkowski.

“You see a lot of ex-players and hear their stories about how they feel in their 40s or 50s and I just don’t want to be that way,” Gronkowski said. “I’m taking action right away and that’s the only way [to not end up like that].

“The NFL is doing all it can do, but at the same time, this is football. This is the most brutal sports game you can play, so there’s always going to be injuries. I’m advocating that there are ways to better manage pain and you can take care of your body and heal your body right away.”

Several times during his news conference, Gronkowski became emotional when talking about his injuries and career. It’s hard not to recognize the difference in how he talks about playing football and — now that he’s healthy — how he talks about the next chapter in his life.

“I had a clear mind when I [retired] and I knew the path that I was going to go down,” Gronkowski said. “I knew that if I was going down that path that I was going to be all in. My family has always been in the business world and this is my first time. It’s what I enjoy, it’s been keeping me busy. If I’m sitting on the couch not doing anything, that’s different. You might get the itch to go back to the NFL, but I have a lot of things in place.”

It remains to be seen if he’ll get that itch, but for now, Gronkowski is focusing on his new persona: “Mr. Recovery.”

“I’m always going to be in football shape because I like to stay in that type of condition — it keeps me sane and going,” Gronkowski said. “I could be feeling good but I know what could happen if I go back.”

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