At the microphone, Gronkowski told the roomful of generals, Medal of Honor recipients, big-money sponsors and military personnel clad in black-tie formal about a visit he had made that afternoon to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“I mean, I thought I went through a lot in my life,” Gronkowski said. “Today, I saw a troop who lost both of his legs tell me he wants to get the movement back in his legs and get prosthetics in, and get back out there and kill some mother-------.”
The room responded with gasps, a burst of spit-take laughter and shrieks of approval.
“That’s what he told me!” Gronkowski said.
So, yeah. He may have retired from the NFL, but Gronk is still Gronk.
The dinner was Gronkowski’s first public appearance since he announced his retirement, at age 29, Sunday evening in a social media post. Gronkowski did not address his retirement in his remarks, and through a USO spokesperson he declined an interview request. Whether he’ll join the WWE and if he’s keeping the door cracked open on an NFL return, as his agent Drew Rosenhaus has suggested, would have to be questions for another time.
The USO-Metro gave Gronkowski its Merit Award, which recognizes “individuals of outstanding creative talent who are dedicated to serving others through volunteerism, particularly for military,” said former quarterback and Fox Sports host Terry Bradshaw, who introduced Gronkowski and served as the event’s emcee. Bradshaw told the crowd Gronkowski retired “with a smile on his face” after asking him, “You good with this, now?”
In his one-day visit to Washington, Gronkowski visited Walter Reed and laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. He visited with Gen. Mark A. Milley and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the start of the night Gronkowski posed for photos with Medal of Honor recipients, to whom the dinner was dedicated.
He received a glimpse of life on the banquet circuit. On his way back from the bathroom during dinner, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer stopped Gronkowski for a photo and pitched him on becoming the next press secretary.
“I’m not that good at that stuff,” Gronkowski replied. “Sorry.”
Gronkowski relayed that anecdote during his speech, referring to the former press secretary as “Spicer over here.”
Later, in thanking a list of people, he mentioned “General Milley and … ugh, I just went blank there.”
“Dunford!” a crowd member hollered, reminding Gronkowski of the name of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“And Dunford!” Gronkowski said, as the audience laughed again. “We were at the general’s house today. They’re all from Boston. I just want to say, thank you for having us today. It was an unbelievable honor to, you know, see the house, to eat some nice grub with your family.”
Gronkowski thanked everyone for everything one last time, then walked off the stage and back to a head table that included the generals, Bradshaw and comedian Jon Stewart. It was a new experience for Gronkowski, in a life about to be full of those.