Reimer: Brady and Gronk are playing all of us, one cryptic message at a time

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Photo credit Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Few sights are sadder than grown men and women with college degrees trying to decipher Tom Brady’s vague Instagram posts. The only thing more depressing is when middle-aged talk show hosts attempt to interpret Rob Gronkowski’s latest Juicy J-inspired subtweet. 

But that’s where we are in 2018. All professional athletes, not just Brady and Gronkowski, have us eating out of their hands –– waiting for crumbs of content to endlessly psychoanalyze. It’s only going to get worse in the ensuing weeks, too, with the start of NBA free agency. Who’s ready for another emoji battle?

Brady, who’s publicly pondered his football mortality at several points this offseason, may have given the definitive answer about his playing future in an Instagram comment Tuesday. Or maybe he was just playing games. That's the beauty of it. 

On an ESPN post speculating about Brady’s retirement, the GOAT responded with the following message: "Cuarenta y cinco.”

Then he inserted three monkey emojis: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. I have no idea what those mean, though I do send them often. 

On Twitter, NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Giardi pointed out Brady could have clarified his retirement plans in the “half dozen interviews” he’s given over the last few months. Most recently, Brady told Oprah in hushed tones retirement was coming “sooner rather than later.”

Since Brady will turn 41 in August, that would seem to be an obvious statement. But it sparked headlines across the country, drawing eyeballs to his dreadfully dull interview on Oprah’s obscure cable network. The majority of the conversation was about the TB12 Method and Brady’s newfound commitment to spirituality. 

That’s a win for the brand.

Brady is now a topic every month of the year. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon –– videos of Brady skiing or cliff diving have nearly set off international incidents –– but he’s dominated the conversation almost every week for months on end. A lot of the fervor is due to the Patriots Palace Intrigue. For the first time ever, the Brady-Belichick dynasty is showing cracks. It’s one of the juiciest sports stories anybody could ever find. 

But Brady is adding to the frenzy as well. His soliloquy at the end of “Tom vs. Time” about losing conviction, which followed Gisele Bundchen’s rumination about her husband wanting to feel appreciated at work, thrusted his Facebook series back into the spotlight more than one month after the season had ended. 

Brady's Instagram page, which boasts 4.1 million followers, continues to drive the conversation into late June. 

Athletes now control their message, meaning they aren’t exposed to follow ups with regularity. Gronkowski can tell Danny Amendola to be “happy and free” when he signs with the Dolphins, and then never address what he was insinuating. 

Gronkowski has also used the uncertainty in Foxboro as a way to push his personal brand. At several points this offseason, Gronkowsi tweeted out links to his Gronk Nation website. In late February, when speculation about Gronkowski joining the WWE was at an apex, he tweeted a story detailing how his father, “Papa Gronk,” convinced WWE star and real-life Gronk friend Mojo Rawley to pursue professional wrestling. 

Gronk Nation serves as the digital marketing wing of Gronk Inc. It surfaces ads for Gronk-endorsed products –– “How Gronk Got His New Pearly Whites by Teaming Up With a Teeth Whitening Company” –– and publishes stories about Gronkowski’s charitable endeavors. There is no reason why any human being on earth would go to that website on their own volition. 

That is, unless Gronk teases a scoop regarding his future. Then Gronk Nation is referenced everywhere.

We are getting played, and the endless cycle can’t be stopped. Everybody is interested in Tom Brady; everybody is interested in Rob Gronkowski.

There are too many articles to write, and too much airtime to fill.

Brady and Gronk own the football field. But this year, they’ve also owned real estate in our minds.