Somebody needs to rein in Rob Gronkowski.
Appearing on behalf of CBD-Medic, Gronkowski has been making the rounds doing interviews promoting the product and it’s powers of recovery. The company is hoping to convince the NFL that it’s product should be taken off the league’s banned substance list and made available as part of treatment methods in the league.
Gronkowski’s injury history has made him a largely compelling spokesman. But earlier this week, he was on CBS News and was asked if he’d let his hypothetical future son (Gronkowski has no children presently) play football.
“I would let my son play football. But first I will educate him on the game. I truly believe any injury you receive is fixable though,” Gronkowski said in the interview. “I had nine surgeries and I probably had 20 concussions in my life. I remember like five blackout ones. But like I said I’m fixed.”
Gronkowski has always been at least a little smarter than his goofy Gronk demeanor suggests, but on this topic he’s dangerously misinformed. There lots of injuries, including CTE, that aren’t fixable.
The interviewer, Reena Inan, seemingly realized she had a subject who was wading into waters he wasn’t capable of swimming in, and veered away after that. She asked if he’d consider playing again and if he and his girlfriend planned to get engaged soon.
But Chris Nowinski, the former Harvard football player and WWE wrestler, responded on Twitter. After his athletic career ended, Nowinski who returned to school and has doctorate in behavioral neuroscience. He is the founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation which advances the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes & other at-risk groups. He’s one of the most prominent experts on the topic of athletes and brain injuries. He tweeted at Gronkowski:
“I appreciate and respect that you have the guts to talk honestly about #concussions and #CTE. But right now #CTE cannot be fixed- I invite your help in changing that.”
Gronkowski instead doubled down on his claim, seemingly confusing concussions and CTE.
“It is fixable. I fixed mine. There are plenty of methods in this world that allow the brain to recover from severe damage. That is also why I would allow my kid to play football.
CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition that usually doesn’t begin to show symptoms until well after a player’s career has ended. Gronkowski doesn’t actually know if he has CTE because there’s no test to diagnose it in the living. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“There is currently no way to diagnose CTE. It can only be suspected in people who are at high risk due to repeated head trauma over the course of years during their sports or military experiences. A diagnosis requires evidence of degeneration of brain tissue and deposits of tau and other proteins in the brain that can be seen only upon inspection after death (autopsy).”
If Gronkowski really had 20 concussions there’s a good chance he does. But just because he isn’t feeling the effects now (or at least doesn’t realize he is) doesn’t mean there aren’t dark times awaiting him down the road.
In addition to being an iconic football player for the Patriots, Gronkowski is a good guy, who has done a lot of charity work, especially for children, but his words carry weight. There are undoubtedly kids and fans who follow Gronk on social media who are unlikely to be reading medical journals.
Gronkowski might someday want to educate his own kid, but right now he’s informing other people’s kids inaccurately. That’s not saying kids shouldn’t play football. But if they are, they need to learn about the actual risks of head, neck and spine injuries to pay attention to proper techniques.
They can’t be allowed to believe that they don’t need to worry because any injury is fixable just because Gronk said so.
Follow MassLive sports columnist Matt Vautour on Twitter at @MattVautour424.