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There’s no racial double-standard between Rob Gronkowski and Ezekiel Elliott

03.16.17 at 11:46 am ET
Rob Gronkowski is perceived as a good-natured party boy. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rob Gronkowski is perceived as a good-natured party boy. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

There’s no racial double-standard when it comes to the way Ezekiel Elliott’s bra-pulling incident has been portrayed in comparison to Rob Gronkowski’s off-field shenanigans. Context matters, and given Elliott’s alleged history of violence against women, his behavior can’t be excused as harmless debauchery.

At a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas last weekend, Elliott exposed a woman’s breast while he was partying on a rooftop. It’s apparent the act may not have been consensual, because the woman slaps away Elliott’s hands when he goes for her cleavage a second time.

Two years ago, Gronkowski was also involved in a breast-touching incident. He buried his face into a woman’s cleavage at a nightclub in Charleston, while she danced with a half-empty bottle of liquor in her hand.

If the female on the receiving end of Gronkowski’s motorboat felt victimized, she didn’t show it. The woman who Elliott touched, however, seemed uncomfortable with his hands on her. The evident differences between the two episodes means they’re not comparable. But that didn’t stop some from trying.

On ESPN’s “First Take” Wednesday, Max Kellerman said he thinks race plays a factor into the way Elliott’s actions were perceived.

“Why are we asking about the double-standard in the first place, given the differences in the set of facts?,” he asked. “We’re asking because it does play into stereotypes. On the one hand, good-natured party guy, who tends to be white –– at least as depicted in popular culture –– versus more menacing.”

Orlando Sentinel columnist David Whitley seems to agree. In an op-ed, he asks his readers to imagine if Gronkowski and Elliott were to switch places.

“Imagine if Elliott’s history included countless displays of public intoxication; videos of him gyrating his pelvis into women; getting naked and exposing himself to a bikini-clad babe in a GQ photo spread; organizing a party cruise where he autographed women’s bottoms, breasts and who-knows-what-else?,” he wonders.

It’s worth noting one of Elliott’s representatives told TMZ Sports the woman wasn’t upset, and continued partying with the Cowboys running back afterwards. But before taking that as gospel, one should consider the source. Also, the woman’s apparent decision to keep hanging with Elliott doesn’t mean she gave him permission to expose her breasts in public. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

There’s a lot of gray area surrounding Elliott’s actions last weekend. That’s not the case with Gronkowski. When Whitley writes about videos of Gronkowski “gyrating his pelvis into women,” he’s purportedly referencing the lap dance Gronk gave FS1 anchor Julie Stewart-Binks at the Super Bowl last year. That doesn’t work as a comparison to Elliott, because according to FS1 boss Jamie Horowitz, Stewart-Binks came up with the idea. She defended herself afterwards on Twitter, too, blasting ESPN’s Sarah Spain for her criticisms of the segment.

The “bikini-clad babe in a GQ photo spread” is presumably Victoria Secret model Hailey Clauson, who’s Gronkowski’s girlfriend. To state the obvious, posing with your girlfriend for a magazine photo shoot isn’t similar to pulling down a woman’s top during a parade.

Perhaps Gronkowski’s actions speak to the general acceptance of misogyny that pervades popular culture, but it’s not a race issue, which Kellerman and Whitley seem to suggest. They also gloss over the domestic violence accusations whirling around Elliott. His ex-girlfriend said he beat her on five separate occasions in July 2016. She posted photos of her bruises online, but Columbus authorities declined to move forward with the investigation. The NFL is still looking into the case, and could possibly discipline Elliott this season.

When a guy who’s suspected of abusing his ex-girlfriend is seen tugging on a seemingly unsuspecting woman’s bra, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The biggest off-field strike against Gronkowski is his obsession with awful “69” jokes. His act may be stale, but there’s nothing criminal or nefarious about it. The same can’t be said for Elliott.

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