By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — What is wrong with us?

That’s a question that perhaps begs a long-form answer, and we may not have ample time to cover all of the necessary areas. So for now, we should distill that question down to something a bit more specific.

When it comes to evaluating “news,” and when it comes to the avalanche of aggregated stories, why are we so incapable of actually reading the stories and gauging whether or not anything in those stories actually rises to the level of being newsworthy?

The most recent cause for this existential news crisis came Sunday. If you believed the 11,000 headlines you read or saw on the crawl at the bottom of your TV screen, the news was that Patriots owner Robert Kraft wants Rob Gronkowski to return to the Patriots for November, December and the playoffs. That is “wants,” as in active voice, present tense — a suggestion that this desire was recently expressed and is ongoing to the current moment.

Of course, that is not the case.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that Kraft wanted Gronkowski to return for those final two months and the postseason. Kraft expressed that desire … in March. When Gronkowski cleared out his locker after announcing his retirement. That was it. That was the hook. Many months ago, Kraft told Gronkowski that he’d be welcome back for a stretch run.

Here is the part of Rapoport’s story that went severely underreported: “One person who has recently communicated with Gronkowski said he has shown no signs of coming back to play.”

Let’s play that one again, a little bit louder for anyone who might have missed it:

“One person who has recently communicated with Gronkowski said he has shown no signs of coming back to play.”

Let’s see if we can bump up that font a little bit, just in case anybody missed it:

“One person who has recently communicated with Gronkowski said he has shown no signs of coming back to play.”

That has been just about the most consistent part of all of the reporting and speculating on any potential Gronkowski return to the football field. And yet … you can find 5,000 stories from Sunday that focus on Kraft actively wanting his tight end to return. A brief search finds you national stories from Fox News, Yahoo, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Rapoport also popped up on NFL Network on Monday to read his Sunday story to the masses.

That part of the story isn’t even new, either. Prior to the Patriots’ Thursday Night Football game against the Giants in early October, Kraft said “we can pray and hope” that Gronkowski returns, noting that Gronkowski had not yet filed his retirement papers.

It’s also an obvious angle. What team owner wouldn’t welcome back a 30-year-old tight end who owns the franchise record for receiving touchdowns and ranks second in in receiving yards? That number would be zero. Thus, the only real question that needs to be asked is the same one that Gronkowski has answered a million times since the spring: Does he really want to return to the NFL?

Gronkowski’s best answer on the matter came when he spoke to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe in late August, shortly after the big CBD announcement in New York.

“It’s funny, because I’m like, even if I didn’t leave the door open and I was like, ‘I’m never playing again,’ I already know wherever I go, people are going to be like, ‘When are you coming back?’ That started happening the day after I said I was done,” Gronkowski told Howe. “Everyone is like, ‘OK, when are you coming back?’ I’m like, oh my gosh, all right, so I’m just going to keep the door open then.”

Of course, Gronkowski has stayed true to his word, telling anyone and everyone that the door remains open in case he ever feels the mental desire and urge to play in the NFL. He’s given no indications that he’s having such feelings, though, and he’s moved on to become a product pitchman and a television personality, already landing jobs with Fox and CBS. He’s given every public indication that he’s very much enjoying his post-football life, and he’s uttered no comments at all that suggest he is yearning to play football again.

The speculation on a return also always willingly overlooks the most honest and raw part of Gronkowski’s public retirement announcement, when he fought through tears to share how football was taking away his love for life.

“I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down. And I didn’t like it. And I was losing that joy in life. Like, the joy. I’m sorry right now, but, aw, dang, let me … . But … I really was. And I was fighting through it. And I knew what I signed up for and I knew what I was fighting through, and I knew I just had to fix myself,” Gronkowski said in late August. “I needed to walk away, because I needed to do what was best for myself at that moment. I truly needed to be selfish in my life for once and walk away.”

He also said that day: “I’m not retired from life. I want the joy in life again. I want the passion in life again. That’s where I’m at in life. I’m enjoying it, and it’s a good place.”

One might think that those comments resonate louder than the empty “door is open” comments, especially considering Gronkowski has admitted that he doesn’t even really mean the latter.

While social media pages do not often tell anyone’s complete life story, Gronkowski certainly appears to be happy to be working with his brothers, living a life of health and fitness, and posing for many, many photographs while not wearing a shirt. He has not suggested in any way that he feels any sort of emptiness with regard to the place football holds in his heart.

Nevertheless, the headlines continue to flow, even when the nugget that is unearthed involves an open invitation handed out more than six months ago.

Fortunately, there is a finish line. If Gronkowski is not on the Patriots’ roster by Nov. 30, then his 2019 season is officially over. That means everyone needs to get in the “WILL GRONKOWSKI RETURN??!?!?!” stories before business goes bust.

After Nov. 30, the Gronkowski speculation will officially and thankfully end. (Until they boot back up again in March.)

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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