New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski entered the NFL in 2010. Since then, he has not only grown into a larger-than-life persona but also the best tight end of at least his generation: In his first six years in the league, Gronkowski has been a part of two Super Bowl winning teams, has been voted to a combined seven Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams and has set numerous NFL records while catching 457 passes and 78 touchdowns.
In short: Gronkowski has been one of the most dominant offensive players of his era.
Enter LaVar Ball, best known for a) being the father of NBA first round draft pick Lonzo Ball and b) being a regular on ESPN and TMZ. However, the latter does not happen for his athletic achievements but rather his statements that range from at the best ludicrous to at the worst misogynic. Ball’s latest outburst is closer to the former: During an interview with ESPN Radio in Cleveland, Ball noted that a certain tight end “can’t hang with [him]” during his heyday.
That tight end was Rob Gronkowski. “Too fast, too strong, too fast, I mean, I mean…” was Ball’s reasoning behind this statement. Of course, as has been the case with most of his statements, this one cannot be taken seriously. After all, Ball’s career in professional sports reads like this: Stints on the New York Jets’ and Carolina Panthers’ practice squads in the mid-1990s and a short tenure in the World Football League.
Ball’s statement therefore has to be seen as part of the act that made him a star during the age of sports show hosts screaming nonsense at each other (see: Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Jason Whitlock et al.): “I think it’s just entertainment,” he noted when talking about another claim of his during the above-mentioned interview with ESPN Radio. And that absolutely is true.
However, it simultaneously mirrors a dangerous development in the (sports) media world: Controversy is good for business and therefore becomes en vogue all while facts have to take a backseat. The most drastic example for this, at least in the Patriots' case, has been Deflategate. Before any of the facts about the scandal/farce had come to light the saucy headlines were written and “hot takes” had taken over the airwaves.
And the facts, at least in this case, speak a clear language: Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL, while LaVar Ball is a polarizing figure best made for talk show style journalism. And in the latter case, Gronkowski is indeed unable to “hang with him” – at least for now.