By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — As it turns out, leaving New England does not guarantee a player from avoiding needless, over-sensationalized “controversies.” Tom Brady learned that when he made a harmless trip to pick up a playbook, and now Rob Gronkowski has learned that after he … made a joke.

Gronkowski, alongside girlfriend Camille Kostek, participating in an NFL Draft online after party. When ESPN’s Sage Steele joined the show, she mentioned that Joe Burrow has been studying the Bengals’ playbook for weeks, long before he was drafted.

“Anyone could say that. I was in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers playbook four weeks ago, and I wasn’t even on the team,” Gronkowski replied, barely able to keep a straight face. “That’s what he says. Don’t fall for that.”

(You can watch the delivery around the 57:10 mark of this video.)

Despite it being a clear and obvious joke, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio didn’t pick up on it. Instead, Florio wrote up a post with the headline, “Gronkowski boasts that he had Buccaneers playbook while still under contract with Patriots.”

Florio’s story omitted the “anyone could say that” and “that’s what he says, don’t fall for that” portion of Gronkowski’s quote.


“While Gronk having the playbook may not be a rules violation in and of itself, how he got it could be,” Florio wrote. “Until he was traded last week from New England to Tampa Bay, Gronkowski continued to be under contract with the Patriots. If the Buccaneers were having direct communications with Gronk about joining the team, and if getting him the playbook was simply part of the process, that could be a potential problem for Tampa Bay.”

Florio even reached out to the Patriots for comment. They did not get back to him. Wonder why.

Still seemingly bothered by Brady’s visit to Byron Leftiwch’s house, Florio added, “Gronk’s decision to blurt out the fact that he had a Bucs playbook weeks before the Patriots traded him to Tampa could could require the league to engage in the same kind of tightrope-walking that excused Brady’s meeting with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, ostensibly to pick up a playbook.”

All that … in reaction to a joke.

And because Pro Football Talk is a heavily trafficked website, and because Gronkowksi is a huge name, the story instantly grew legs. The story of Gronk “claiming” he got the Bucs’ playbook early popped up quickly on Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and Newsweek. It’s unclear if anyone watched the clip before pasting the quote, but it nevertheless spread rapidly.

Despite the initial comment clearly being made in jest, Gronkowksi posted to his Instagram story to respond to what had somehow become a legitimate story.

“This is seriously a story? Lol! I was just joking around with Sage as I was pretty much the whole time that night when I was co-hosting the show,” Gronkowski wrote. “Wowsers, my co-hosting skills on point!! Lol!!”

Gronkowski then explained that he had actually just received his playbook, before insulting his own intelligence.

“I actually just received my team-issued Surface today from the Bucs and it’s still in the package,” Gronkowski said. “Hoping it is all pictures and drawings. I’m pumped to open it one day hopefully soon and follow the arrows to learn where to run to. Gronk run Gronk catch ball. No playbook needed. Hehe.”

(Image from Instagram/@Gronk)

So as it turns out, a major NFL bombshell was not revealed during the Bud Light Seltzer Drafterparty hosted by Barstool Sports’ Big Cat. It was just a throwaway joke. Even Inspector Clouseau probably could have picked up on that one.

In the case of Brady, despite NFL teams being “miffed” and wanting punishment, the NFL simply admitted that a quarterback picking up a playbook did not warrant punishment. (That is perhaps one difference between being a Patriot and being a Buccaneer.)

And so, as has become clear in recent weeks, untethering oneself from any Bill Belichick or Patriots connections does not liberate a player from experiencing the phenomenon of having absolutely nothing turn into a national controversy in the blink of an eye.

And lastly, we are all reminded of one absolute, unconditional rule which we should all abide by while using the internet: Never joke.

Never. Joke.

No matter how many people see the joke for what it is, there will always be a sizable percentage of people who simply cannot comprehend the joke, thus creating more problems than it’s worth to fire off that little unfunny joke.

Never joke.

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