Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Ilya S. Savenok | Getty Images for CBDMEDIC

How Rob Gronkowski has turned retirement into big business.

Unlike other high-profile athletes and celebrities who quietly seek anonymity while on Nantucket, when Rob Gronkowski first made landfall on the island during the summer of 2016, the entire sports world heard about it. With Patriots teammate Julian Edelman in tow, Gronk did what Gronk does best—he partied. In true Figawi fashion, he slid behind the bar at Cisco Brewers, danced up a storm in the Figawi race tent and took full advantage of every opportunity to whip off his t-shirt. While this fun-loving, partying persona never overshadowed Gronkowski’s dominance on the playing field, it did distract from his lesser-known endeavors off of it. Now in his first year since retiring from football, Rob Gronkowski is proving that, beyond the party buses and infamous booze cruises, he’s a surprisingly savvy entrepreneur whose moves off the field have set him up for a highly profitable post-NFL career. In fact, evidence of this can be found right here on Nantucket.

“I had a great career and will always remain thankful to the NFL, my coach and my teammates for the opportunities afforded to me, but it was time for me to retire and invest in my recovery,” Gronkowski said in an exclusive interview with N Magazine. “I am very happy right now and enjoy watching the game now as a fan.” When Gronkowski announced his retirement from football this spring, he was leaving at the top of his game. Fresh off his third Super Bowl victory, during which he made a record-breaking number of catches, Gronkowski had cemented his legend as one of the most dominant tight ends of all time. Nevertheless, questions quickly swirled around why this twenty-nine-year-old was hanging up his pads so early.

“I was taking constant hits, which combined with the surgeries, were adding up,” he explained. “I had massive amounts of inflammation in my body and I wasn’t performing at my best. The injuries were starting to affect my spirit and that’s when I knew it was time.” After nine years in the league, Gronkowski had blown out his ACL and MCL, undergone three surgeries on his back and four on his forearm, and endured an untold number of concussions. “I was in near constant pain and needed to make a change,” he said. “I decided to walk away from the game because I had to find new ways to fully recover.” So as spring turned to summer and preseason football kicked off, Gronkowski remained on the sidelines, despite constant speculation that he would make a dramatic return to the game.

In August, Gronkowski called a press conference, sending this speculation into a fever pitch. Yet instead of announcing a return to football, the future Hall of Famer declared that his next big play would be in CBD, the non-psychoactive compound derived from cannabis that has exploded in popularity in recent years as an all-natural treatment for anxiety, depression, nausea, arthritis and pain. Gronkowski’s father had introduced him to CBD after he jammed three toes while playing soccer some months into his retirement. “They were black and blue and incredibly painful,” he said. “I applied CBDMEDIC, found immediate pain relief and was able to put my shoe on and go on with my day. I was blown away by how well it worked [that] I had to get involved with them.”

So it was that standing on a stage in New York City with a backdrop covered by cannabis symbols, Gronkowski announced that he had partnered with Abacus Health Products, who makes CBDMEDIC, one of the few CBD lines on the market to be registered with the FDA. “These products have helped me safely manage pain better than anything else I’ve tried,” he said. “For the first time in more than a decade, I am pain-free.”

Much like former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce who launched his own CBD line in June, Gronkowski stands to profit by joining the CBD “Green Rush,” which some project will hit $20 billion in sales in the next five years. “I’m excited to begin this next chapter of my career as a businessman and investor working with Abacus Health Products,” Gronkowski said. “We are in the midst of developing a range of new fitness-oriented products that I can’t wait to launch early next year.”

CBDMEDIC is just the latest page in a portfolio of business endeavors that Gronkowski had been cultivating since well before his retirement. A marketer’s dream, Gronkowski amassed a dizzying array of endorsement deals during his time on the field, serving as the face of Dunkin Donuts, Monster Energy, Tide, Jet Blue and half a dozen other big name companies. He lived entirely off the money he made off these endorsement deals, famously never touching a penny of the $53 million he earned during his nine seasons playing for the New England Patriots. This fiscal savviness perhaps came from his father, who actually took out an insurance policy on his son during college. If Gronkowski retired from football at the age of nineteen, the insurance policy would have paid out $4 million.

“I could retire and collect the $4 million insurance, tax-free, at the age of 19…but that would mean I couldn’t play football anymore,” Gronkowski wrote in his 2015 autobiography, It’s Good to be Gronk. (That’s right: you can also add New York Times bestselling author to Gronk’s resume.) “I did the calculations, and at four percent annual interest I could make $160,000 a year without touching the $4 million principal. But I didn’t want the easy money. I wanted to earn it, playing football.” This obviously turned out to be the right play. Beyond Super Bowl glory and his NFL salary, Gronkowski’s endorsement deals alone covered what he would have earned through the insurance payout. Not to mention the fact that after two years with the Patriots, he inked the most lucrative contract for a tight end in the history of the game at that time.

Along with his partnerships with companies like CBDMEDIC and endorsement deals with brands like Monster Energy Drink and Tide, Gronkowski is also heavily involved in more homegrown businesses with his family. He’s partnered with his father and four brothers—three of which also played in the NFL and one in the MLB—in at least seven companies, selling everything from insulated, spill-proof protein shaker bottles to Gronk-branded fitness equipment. In the 1980s, Gronkowski’s father Gordy started a fitness equipment company with his own brother that expanded to four retail locations dotting the northeast. As Gronkowski’s NFL fame took off, the father and sons developed a line of Gronk-branded fitness equipment, the sales of which grew by a reported 200 percent in its first two years. Most recently, Gronk Fitness equipment was installed in the new Nantucket Fire Department.

Gronkowski and his brothers have also been touring the country with their own race circuit called Stadium Blitz, in which they set up Spartan-style obstacle courses in football stadiums for the public to compete in. Gronk himself has competed in a number of these races, revealing a much different physique than a year ago. “I’ve remained very active since my retirement, working out almost every day,” he said. “I also follow an all-natural diet that includes organic food and juices. As a result, I am leaner, faster and sharper than I was eight months ago.”

Indeed, it’s impossible to watch Gronkowski sprinting around a football field during one of his Stadium Blitzes and not wonder whether he’ll ever come out of retirement and play professional football again. “If I were to make the decision to return to the NFL, I would truly have to feel ready to come back, both physically and mentally,” he said. “I’m enjoying watching the game as a spectator, and continue to love and respect the action and glory of the game—now from the sidelines.” Whether he decides to throw on his pads again or not, one thing’s for sure: Rob Gronkowski has many more pages left to write in his playbook.

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