Offensive lineman Eugene Monroe, an advocate for medical marijuana, retired from the NFL on Thursday. Only 29, Monroe explained his decision in the The Players’ Tribune, expressing concern over CTE and saying that the last 18 years of his football life have been “full of traumatic injuries to both my head and body.”
Monroe is the 12th player 30 or younger to retire from the NFL this offseason.
“Certainly I’ve had a number of physical injuries,” Monroe said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “My season was ended because of a shoulder injury that required surgery. As athletes, we push through those things. We recover from that surgery, we get back to an even better state than before and I’ve been through that cycle numerous times. When we talked the last time, I had just been cleared. I was ready to go back on the field. I was ready to go back and play and I was excited about it. But at the same time, I had also been thinking about the damage that would be done to my brain, the damage that’s already been done. I’ve got concussions that have been documented and certainly most all players take hits to our head. We’ve all got banged around.”
Monroe, a Virginia product, was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He spent four years with Jacksonville and three with Baltimore before getting released in June.
Monroe received interest from several NFL teams as a free agent but has decided to call it a career.
“I have three young children,” he said. “They certainly played a factor and also my wife. I think the decision I made was wise to no longer destroy my body and accumulate any brain damage from the sport of football. Hopefully the damage, if any, is not there or insignificant. But if it is, I’ll do what I can to address it and move on, but I’m excited about the next steps.”
Some wondered if Monroe was released, in part, for his outspoken stance on medical marijuana, but Monroe does not think that factored into Baltimore’s decision.
“I don’t believe that there was,” Monroe said. “And certainly I don’t know. There very may well have been some of that out there, but almost immediately, there was interest from other teams who needed a tackle to come in and offer some help. Initially, I weighed those options very seriously. I certainly was battling between continuing to play and choosing to retire. I’m thankful that those teams did approach and offer me an opportunity to play, but ultimately I had to respectfully decline and move on.”
Monroe will continue to fight to remove marijuana from the NFL’s banned substance list.
“Not only do I pursue it on a continued basis, but now I believe there’s more available time to actually do work on it, so I’m excited for that,” Monroe said. “It’s very hard (for current players) to take that stance, especially looking at my situation. I can understand if someone says, ‘Hey, Eugene’s been supporting this cannabis policy reform, and look what happened: He’s been released. Do I want to do the same?’ That was something that I thought about as I got started, but my health is far more important to me than being concerned with that. But for a lot of guys, they may not have that peace. They may not be where I was mentally when I made that decision, so I understand. But there is an overwhelming amount of support. Even upon being released, I’ve gotten messages and texts and calls from guys all around the league – many of whom I don’t have a strong relationship with – and they’re all supportive. So it’s awesome to see that support within the players’ group, but it’s going to take more than just support from players to get this done; it’s going to take research that proves that this is a healthier alternative. Research is also something that I’m very much involved with.”
Monroe said the NFLPA is extremely interested in advancing Monroe’s cause.
“They recognize that we have a huge problem in our league with our pain-management practices,” he said. “It’s a problem that exists in our league but is also widespread throughout our country. People are prescribed opioids to manage pain, and the NFL, there’s a great deal of injury that coincides with a great deal of pain. Team doctors prescribe opiates just like any doctor. We know these drugs are very dangerous and addictive in nature. Cannabis is a healthier alternative. Now that we know there’s an alternative that’s healthier, it’s irresponsible to not pursue it at least on a research basis. There’s certainly tons of anecdotal evidence, tons of doctors, tons of patients across our country that are experiencing benefits from this. Of course our former athletes talk about the fact that many of them wouldn’t have had such long careers if they didn’t consume cannabis to manage their pain. It’s something very real that we’re dealing with.”