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Rob Gronkowski’s party ship: booze fuelled nightmare or NFL unifier?

There are five months until NFL training camps open and nearly seven until any meaningful football will be played, but the highlight (or lowlight, depending on your viewpoint) of the 2016 NFL season may have already occurred on the high seas between Miami and the Bahamas. Rob Gronkowski’s fan cruise, official titled the Gronk Party Ship, gave 700 Gronk-loving bros and fe-bros the time of their lives. It could even unite NFL fans.

But we’ll get to the repercussions of this momentous event later. Now it’s time to dance:

The boat where that remarkable display of gyration took place set sail on Friday from Miami, Florida, with Flo Rida, Waka Flocka Flame, 3Lau, Gronkowski family members and hundreds of wannabe Gronks. The boat also had a large contingent of journalists, including not one but two reporters from the Boston Globe.

After dropping anchor in the Bahamas on “Gronk Island,” the boat returned on Monday with all of its passengers. Yes, in an upset bigger than the Giants over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, no one got so drunk that they fell off the ship. In fact, the boat even came back with more passengers than it left with, if you want to include the many lucky zygotes that were no doubt conceived upon Gronk Island.

The cost to participate in Sodom and Gronkmorrah began at $700, plus fees, but there were opportunities to make back that money and much more. Gronk himself offered one couple “10 grand cash right now if you bang in front of everybody.” Hopefully they got a receipt. It’s tax season, after all. And while paying people to “bang” in public may not seem especially wholesome or protective of Roger Goodell’s sacred “Shield,” Gronk’s ship was not made to be a family-friendly event … save for playing Family Feud (and the option for guests to bring children).

But the fun didn’t end there on the S.S.T.D. A Gronkite from Kentucky proposed to his girlfriend. Father Gronk took off his shirt and flexed. Take that, Archie Manning! Gronk gave piggyback rides to his performers. Women rode inflatable zebras. Gronk rode Waka Flocka Flame. Sounds like good, blackout, consensual fun for the kind of people whose idea of fun is blacking out.

Don’t believe me? Then ask a woman on the cruise who the Globe spoke to: “Am I having a good time? Oh my God, yes! Although I kind of don’t remember last night. I might have blacked out.”

It’s unlikely that everyone on the ship enjoyed themselves, however. The 700 Gronkophilies made up only 30% of the boat’s passengers. Another 1,600 people were just your average cruise-goers – snowbirds in Hawaiian shirts looking to relax – who found themselves unexpectedly dropped into three days and four nights of the very worst episode of Entourage. Imagine your poor grandmother being propositioned by a Gronk relative on the way to get more crab imperial at the dinner buffet. Awful. If travel agents still exist, these peoples’ are getting fired.

For those who specifically chose to pay for the Gronkanali, they no doubt got what they were looking for. It might not be everyone’s (including this writer’s) cup of Twisted Tea, but the Gronk Party Ship was probably tons of fun for anyone who views their years in university Greek life as the greatest (yet mostly forgotten due to heavy drinking) time of their lives. Everyone was a willing participant and it seems partcipation was high. But how does all of this heal NFL’s wounds?

Because Gronk is the great uniter among the football world’s warring hot take factions. On one side, we have your traditional, older NFL fans who despise Cam Newton’s celebrations and revel in the downfall of anyone who is less than perfect off the field. These are the people who claim to care only about hard-nosed play and production on the field. These are the people whose favorite sports term is the word “thug”. These are the people whose demand for “class” and “respect” being displayed at all times coincidentally peaked with the rise to prominence of a black quarterback. On the other side are those who believe there isn’t enough dancing and attitude in sports and feel Newton should be celebrated for walking out of his Super Bowl press conference because he was just living his truth of not feeling the need to be polite to the media … or something.

Then there is Gronk. Beloved Gronk. Gronk is able to straddle the divide between the two sides (and then likely hump that divide while LMFAO plays in the background). He celebrates after touchdowns. He parties. He drinks. He takes his shirt off and shows his personality and his abs’ personality. He is everything the “let’s just have fun out there” crowd wants. He’s so unashamed of who he is (or so dumb, if you prefer), that his cruise didn’t even ban cell phones and the use of social media.

But like a Red Bull and vodka, Gronk is more than just one thing. If his bro-ness came at the expense of his playing career he would be easier to criticize. But the NFL’s premier party boy also has a championship ring. He is tough and physical on the field. His team-mates and coaches have never questioned his commitment. He’s not late for meetings. He has never been in trouble with the law. He saves his money. And unlike Cam Newton, for example, Gronk always fulfils his media obligations.

Gronk is all things to all people. He is the everybro. He is old school mixed with thrown-out-of-school. He’s half-Tebow, half-Manziel (although without the problems of the latter). If he can keep up this remarkable pace through the end of his career, if he can continue to show up on the field and in the dance club but never in the police blotter, he can be the shining, sweat and lipstick and Jell-o shot-covered example that athletes can have fun and still be great, no matter their race or shot of choice. He can maybe convince the hot take factions to end their war and remember that they’re on the most fun and drunken journey of all: a lifetime of being a sports fan.

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