BOSTON, MA - JUNE 03: Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots celebrates as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics on June 3, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
OutSports.com, a website devoted to gay issues in the athletic world, published an encounter with Gronkowski from last week's ESPYs. Gronkowski was described as guarded, the interview presumably coming on the heels of New England brass suggesting Summer of Gronk cool down.
Nevertheless, he gave a candid response that albeit brief, carries a lot of weight.
"If that’s how they are, that’s how they are," Gronkowski said. "I mean, we’re teammates so, as long as he’s being a good teammate and being respectful and everything, that’s cool."
Gronkowski's record setting production last season and off-field charisma have made him a fan favorite, which means his sentiment reaches millions.
Sports have a fascinating way of mirroring, if not impacting social matters. Jackie Robinson's integration into Major League Baseball predated President Harry S. Truman's desegregation of the military by a year. Texas Western's racially mixed basketball team won the NCAA championship at the height of public tensions amid the civil rights movement. Magic Johnson announced his infection with HIV at a time the disease was still mysterious and misunderstood.
Situations are all vastly different, but the social and sport parallels to be observed are fascinating.
President Barack Obama declared his support for legalized gay marriage earlier this year. A star like Gronkowski proclaiming his openness to sharing the field with a gay teammate is not nearly as important, but might resonate with a difference audience.
Most significant in Gronkowski's statement is that he would not treat a hypothetical gay teammate with disdain, nor with special care, but as a teammate. As an equal, like any other man to put on the Patriots' navy-and-silver. There is something profound to a sentiment so simple.
And that's worthy of a hearty fist pump.