To sports fans, it wasn't even that big of a story on the day it broke late last month. But for those keeping tabs on the medical machinations of professional football, the retirement of Eugene Monroe -- the NFL's only active player calling for the league to allow marijuana as a pain-reduction option to opioids -- was a noteworthy event.
We wrote a couple times about Monroe, the 29-year-old offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens who embarked on a crusade to prompt the NFL to drop its pot ban so that players could be free to smoke (without facing fines or suspensions) as an alternative to using prescription pills to combat the constant pain they faced. Monroe cited the frequent addiction players were subjected to as a result of pill popping -- prescribed and approved by team doctors -- acting as self-appointed spokesman for players around the country who felt that marijuana was being unfairly demonized by the NFL.
Monroe's decision to publicly confront the league on this hot-button issue raised the stakes that his outspokenness -- a rare occurrence by active players in a league where few contracts are guaranteed -- could well lead to the end of his livelihood, a likely scenario being that the Ravens might release him to merely to escape the unwanted media attention, while no other team steps in to sign him.
Basically that's what happened, although no one can be sure since Monroe was often injured and his value suffered as a result. But it's a reasonable assumption that his open defiance to the NFL's drug policy and Commissioner Roger Goodell -- whom he called a liar -- didn't help prolong his career.
There were reports that other teams were interested in signing Monroe, but none did despite having had five weeks to strike a deal since Baltimore released him. In the wake of that inaction, Monroe, citing strong concerns over his health, decided to walk away from the game.
"The last 18 years have been full of traumatic injuries to both my head and my body," Monroe wrote in an essay posted on the website, The Players' Tribune. "I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. Has the damage to my brain already been done? Do I have CTE? [chronic traumatic encephalopathy]. I hope I don’t, but over 90% of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease. I am terrified."
Despite his exit from the sport, Monroe said he would not drop his cause to press the league to allow marijuana use.
“Even though my football career is over, I plan to continue to be a vocal advocate for medical marijuana research, particularly as it relates to CTE,” Monroe added. “More steps need to be taken to curb the overuse of opioids in NFL locker rooms, and I won’t rest until something is done.”