The apparent distrust that developed between Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots while he was rehabbing from his forearm injury three years ago seems to be percolating to the surface yet again.
During Week 11 of the 2012 season, Gronkowski broke his left forearm in a game against the Indianapolis Colts. Then-Patriots team physician Dr. Thomas Gill performed a surgical procedure and Gronkowski was back on the field six weeks later for the regular-season finale. But then Gronkowski re-injured that same forearm in a divisional round playoff game against the Houston Texans just two weeks afterwards. He underwent three more arm surgeries—in addition to a back operation—over the next five months.
The Patriots expected Gronkowski to possibly return as soon as mid-September the following season, but he didn’t wind up taking the field until late October. This miscommunication spawned a whisper campaign unlike anything seen before in the Bill Belichick era.
Ten days before Gronkowski’s return, WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia reported the tight end’s family was “seriously concerned” about Dr. Gill’s initial surgery on the forearm. An infection had developed in Gronkowski’s left arm over the winter, and his family believed it was a direct result of Dr. Gill’s original operation.
One week after Petraglia’s story was published, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Gronkowski’s extended absence was creating “resentment” towards him in the locker room. In a shocking development, the notoriously tight-lipped Patriots organization appeared to be engaging in a public relations war with its star tight end. Gronkowski didn’t wind up returning to the field until Dr. James Andrews, a third-party physician, cleared him to do so.
All of that history is important to recall, because it provides context to the events of the last week. Just hours after Gronkowski injured his right knee Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, numerous NFL insiders, from ESPN’s Adam Schefter to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, reported the injury wasn’t nearly as serious as it had first appeared. On Monday, Schefter tweeted that Gronkowski’s return will be a “pain tolerance issue.”
It was odd to read all of this information, considering how clandestinely the team usually operates. Somebody, and more likely multiple people, were doing lots of talking.
Then on Tuesday, in an unprecedented move, the Patriots filed a joint statement with Gronkowski’s family about the status of his injury. The statement says Gronkowski sustained a bone bruise/sprain in his right knee and his availability will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. Tuesday night, Gronkowski posted a video on Bleacher Report saying he “wouldn’t return until he’s 100 percent.” That’s curious phrasing for sure, considering no football player is “100 percent” at this point in the season.
Belichick loathes sharing information with the public, especially in regards to injuries. The culture of secrecy in Foxboro is so prevalent, left tackle Nate Solder managed to keep his testicular cancer diagnosis hidden for a year.
And yet, the Patriots have been beyond transparent about Gronkowski’s latest knee injury—even allowing him to record a video about it. When Belichick was asked Wednesday about all of this sudden openness, he failed to hide his seeming annoyance with the situation.
— Joe Giza (@JoeGiza) December 2, 2015
It’s clear Belichick isn’t driving the bus here. If he were, it’s unlikely we’d even know which knee Gronkowski injured, never mind his exact diagnosis. In this particular instance, it seems as if Belichick, the ultimate control freak, has ceded authority to Gronk, Inc.
In a Patriots season littered with storylines and intrigue, this may be the most fascinating subplot to date.
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