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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski as New England Patriots embrace after Gronkowski scored a touchdown against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 25, 2015, in Foxboro, Mass. Gronkowski came out of retirement and will be joining Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In times of darkness, we need heroes. Heroes such as Rob Gronkowski.

Sure, the Gronk performs a non-essential service. And, granted, he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. And, yes, he may be actively dangerous. He is exactly the sort of wear-a-backward-ballcap-to-a-funeral bro they create COVID snitch lines for.

But Gronk represents a sort of hope. Emphasis on “sort of.”

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That’s the NFL’s new tagline – “hope.” It isn’t desperately trying to rescue billions of dollars of revenue that will be lost if the pandemic interrupts its operation. Why are you so cynical? The league is here to light the way for the rest of us with its positivity.

“People look to us for optimism,” NFL boss Roger Goodell told ESPN the other day. “They look to us for bringing communities together. I think the draft is a great example of that, with restoring hope. It’s hope for our fans.”

Yes, drafts restore hope. It’s a proved, scientific fact. We should all try this. Walk into a local business and say, “Here’s who I’d like to be served by today. That one. She looks competent. She’s my top pick. Not that one. He looks addlepated. I’m taking him off my board.”

I miss football, too, but I miss it less when the parties involved talk about it this way. Sports is not “hope.” Not unless they’re starting up a National Epidemiology League.

Sports is a distraction from the things that are out there crushing hope. There’s a difference.

Sports is also a parasite. The PGA Tour has announced it will spin the game back up in June by instituting a regime that constantly tests players and staff for infection. It is hoping to lay its hands on a million coronavirus tests in order to do so.

A million sounds like a lot, especially when people who are actively sick can’t figure out how to get tested.

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But you know what the CDC says. We need to pay special mind to a few groups if we’re going to get through this together – medical staff, the infirm and caddies.

If you’re going to play sports then, yes, I will watch it. I may even cry. But easy on the platitudes. These are businesses doing what businesses do – make money any which way they can.

Gronk represents something different.

It’s not hope, exactly. It’s something more like heedlessness combined with joie de vivre. Remember when you last felt heedless and/or joyous? Yeah, me neither.

Life is made up largely of automatic behaviours. You don’t think about most of the things you do. You just do them.

Not any more. Now everything’s a conscious decision.

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Do you leave the apartment? That’s a half-hour debate with yourself. If the yes’s take it, you’re going to have to put on pants. That’s the only easy choice of your day because you only wear one pair of pants any more. The pyjama bottoms with the hole in the crotch. Walking makes the hole worse, but whatever. Carpe diem.

Once you leave, are you seriously getting in the elevator? If you hit the button with your elbow, is that better than pressing it with your finger? You’re not likely to stick your elbow in your mouth, but still, make a mental note to delouse from the shoulders down.

Where exactly are you going? Is going there worth it? Once you get there, what if there’s a line? Worse, what if there’s no line. That’s how you end up packed into a Bulk Barn with a bunch of other flour-hoarding disease vectors.

So in the end, you do not leave the apartment. That means you have no glamour shots of homemade sourdough to put on Instagram, the sort you think say, “I am thriving in adversity!”, but really say, “I am a week, maximum, from a rubber room!”

I don’t know about you, but my brain is quite small and feeble and was not designed for this much wear and tear.

That’s me, and then there’s Gronk.

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Gronk is having a wonderful pandemic. Somehow, he is everywhere. He’s doing home improvements, playing basketball with himself and riding a tandem bike with a friend. Absolutely no baking of any sort. Also, he managed to win a wrestling championship on live TV. As you do.

You’re trying to figure out the best method for opening doors with your feet and Gronk is over there on a permanent VIP spring break.

Then on Monday, Gronkowski decided to unretire. Simultaneously, he was traded by the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

You get Tom Brady’s calculation here. The quarterback has just tossed more than two decades worth of goodwill in exchange for a new life in (shudder) Florida. The only way this works out for him is if he wins a Super Bowl. Even out of game shape and with a lot of hard miles on him, Gronkowski is still the best receiving tight end in NFL history.

But what’s Gronk’s angle? Why, in the midst of everything that’s going on, with his long history of injury and given that he is a big enough brand to do anything he wants, would he return to already finished business?

Because why not, bro?

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Gronk doesn’t think too hard about things. He just does them.

Gronk is a prepandemic man living in our pandemic world.

He doesn’t need the money. He’s got plenty of attention. Which means the only reason Gronk can be doing this is for fun.

You don’t see sports leagues banging on about fun because it sounds frivolous. It isn’t.

Fun is what happens once you have hope. When we are once again capable of fun on a large scale, things will be better. Best not to lose sight of that.

Remember fun? Vaguely. That was before our minds tipped into a permanent state of alert readiness.

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That’s what Gronk does. That’s his pandemic purpose. He reminds us, in his insignificant and charming way, what fun looks like.

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