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The Softer, Smarter Side of Gronk

Football’s renaissance man, Rob Gronkowski, talks with Rolling Stone about his businesses, charity work he does off the field

The Softer, Smarter Side of Gronk

Rob Gronkowski is about more than playing football and partying...seriously.

REX

It’s really no surprise to anyone that follows the National Football League that the New England Patriots are back in another Super Bowl. Super Bowl LI, on February 5, will mark the team’s seventh appearance under quarterback Tom Brady, and during the Bill Belichick era.

One of the key soldiers in the Pats’ game the last seven seasons is four-time All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. He’s also become, for fans and observers of the game, an immortal part of the New England Patriots’ dynasty and lore for his talent, size and antics on and off the field. Even though Gronk is currently sidelined, thanks to a back injury that occurred on-field versus the New York Jets last November, he’s no less there in spirit for his beloved Patriots as they get set to take on the Atlanta Falcons for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

“Oh man, the team is doing great,” Gronkowski says by phone to Rolling Stone. “It’s great to see them work hard and stick together. And it motivates me to go in and see everyone every day, take my rehab and get back into it as soon as I can next year.”

That’s the thing about Gronkowski: it’s not just his 68 touchdowns and 6,000-plus yards over seven seasons that make him stand out or that Sports Illustrated recently named him one of the 10 best tight ends of all time. It’s not even the fact that Tom Brady’s passer rating goes up a whole 20 points with #87 on the field that makes him a special one. His mix of talent and enthusiasm just doesn’t come along that often. You watch him enough, whether he’s in uniform, giving interviews, pranking his quarterback, the Gronk Bus, going on Family Feud with the rest of the Gronks or doing something stupid on social media, and you start to think there’s got to be a little more to the story. 

Like it’s possible that Rob Gronkowski has it all figured out. 

Truth is, despite the big muscles, his towering six-foot-six aura and the puppy dog mixed with a frat boy persona, Gronkowski, also the Patriots’ all-time touchdown leader, represents a smarter side of professional sports. Maybe, dare we say, even a renaissance man of sorts? That mix of athletic brilliance and business acumen only a few other guys like LeBron James have. The casual observer might just think it’s all partying and laughing when he even thinks about the number “69,” but maybe, just maybe, we don’t know Gronk like we think we do. 

Take Gronk’s newest TV project called MVP. The new game show and original series  – think Shark Tank, with start-up businesses competing to bag big time professional athletes as their brand ambassadors –  is set to air January 25 on Verizon’s go90, a social entertainment platform built for the mobile-first generation. 

MVP, produced by Rob Gronkowski in partnership with Hunting Lane Films and INE Entertainment, was conceived as a result of Gronk’s every day encounters with entrepreneurs that, he says, comes just as a part of being a professional athlete.

“As professional athletes we get pitched business or investment opportunities all the time, wherever we are. You bump into friends, I could be at an NBA game, or anywhere out and about, and people mention that they have a friend or know a good business person who has an idea they want to share.”

Gronkowski says his show streamlines that process. “It gives us the opportunity to actually meet these people, ask some questions, try the products,” he says.

MVP certainly has no shortage of most valuable talent for its upcoming 18 episodes. The series also features Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, and NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, not to mention Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza, Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch, Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay and former NFL star Terrell Owens. Another big guest on MVP is Golden State Warriors dynamo forward Kevin Durant.

“Durant’s a great dude to have. It was just an honor to go on the panel with him, talk a little business, and watch him listen to these entrepreneurs pitching us,” says Gronkowski. “Definitely laid back dude and a listener, a little reserved. But, he’s definitely not reserved on that basketball court – he’s always balling.”

Gronk also isn’t shy about the fact that he looks up to others who have made their mark on the NFL, long before him.

“Having Marshall Faulk on the podium too,” Gronk adds, “Such a thrill to work with an important legend in the sport that I play.”

The show’s creative and executive producer Russ Axelrod says that many times the best sponsorships and brand ambassadorships with pros “aren’t just about cutting a check” and that viewers will get a glimpse into what makes a smart, new enterprise attractive to a major athlete.

“With all the business endorsements that happen in sports marketing, we wanted to show people how these deals really come to light,” he said. Axelrod says that millennials, especially young males, are the major audience, but that the show will appeal to anyone with an interest in sports or business.

In addition to the new Verizon go90 show, Gronkowski also has a supporting role in an upcoming film called American Violence, that also stars Denise Richards and Bruce Dern. American Violence is a psycho-drama tale about a homicidal death row inmate, and carries a plot reminiscent of 1990s thrillers such as Primal Fear, Edward Norton’s big screen debut that also starred Richard Gere. Yet, more often it’s the action within a film that tends to grab Gronk.

“Jason Statham is one of my favorites. I’ve watched basically every single one of his action movies, and they’re all creative,” says Gronkowski. “A movie can be plain and simple, but if there’s a lot of action, I enjoy them.”

On the lighter side of entertainment, Gronkowski played himself in a recent episode of FOX’s cartoon sitcom, Family Guy.

“I’ve watched Family Guy, growing up and throughout my whole life,” Gronk says, about the TV show, which first hit the airwaves in 1999 when he was nine years old. “It was super cool to be involved with it, doing the voiceovers, and have [my] brothers and family involved in it too.”

Then there’s softer side of Gronk. It’s the type of thing that tends to get obscured by all the talk of the Pats tight end scoring touchdowns or partying with his shirt off. Gronkowski does a lot to keep connected with his community through a charity organization called the Gronk Nation Family Foundation.

“I created the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation with my family and my friends, because growing up, I had a lot,” said Gronkowski. “I had everything as a kid, from playgrounds to sports, and a lot of people to play with, and thus everything I needed to be successful later as an athlete.”

Along with gladly getting his hair shaved off at the annual One Mission Buzz Off, an event in honor and support of kids with cancer, Gronkowski said his foundation runs regular fundraising efforts to donate sports equipment and cheerleading outfits to youth programs throughout the New England area.

“To see the smiles on the kids’ faces – and their fans, that are going crazy to see their kids playing youth football –  is awesome, and a great feeling just to see that.” 

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