Former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe still lives with the aches and pains of the game.
There are the minor twinges that come and go. Discomfort from joint inflammation and soreness are to be expected. After all, Monroe dedicated the better part of 18 years of his life continually putting his body on the line. But then there is the pain that requires therapy, lingering issues from misdiagnosed injuries that Monroe said he didn’t even know existed.
“It’s kind of depressing because here I am a year later, rolling out of bed with my back hurting like I had practice yesterday, every single day. And I’m only 30,” Monroe said. “Retiring from football was retiring from playing football on the field, but I feel like I still have to do all the things I did while I played just to get through my day and not have my knee be swollen every day and have my back so tight that it hurts just walking around.”
Although fine-tuning his body is a constant in Monroe’s life, he has found a natural way to alleviate the daily aches and pains without the side effects of various pharmaceuticals generally used for pain.
Even as an active member of the Ravens squad, before retiring last July after being released by the team a month before, Monroe openly shared his thoughts about the use of medical marijuana in the NFL. Although the Ravens have never confirmed nor denied that Monroe’s advocacy was one of the reasons for his release, the message was clear that the organization did not back Monroe’s decision to openly advocate for the use of medical marijuana.
“I promise you, he does not speak for the organization,” head coach John Harbaugh said last offseason.
Whether Monroe got support for his cause didn’t matter much. The time he devoted to researching the positive impact of cannabis use and how beneficial it could be to those with chronic pain, especially fellow football players, was enough to keep Monroe steadfast in his journey to educate people.
“I reached a point that I realized I had been armed with enough real information. I’d done enough research and sort of got to a place where I understand that marijuana was healthier than most anything that any team doctor prescribed me,” Monroe said. “I thought it was time that someone who would be heard, a player that was active, talk about this because I saw guys that were retired trying to speak out about it and the message fell on deaf ears. I was determined to do what I thought was right.”
Another driving force was the fact that the execrable side effects from prescribed medication was something Monroe never wanted to experience again. One time in particular still stands out to Monroe. During the last year of his career, Monroe underwent surgery and was placed on injured reserve during his recovery. For the pain, he was prescribed oxycodone, an opioid used to relieve moderate to severe pain. Five days into taking the prescribed pills, Monroe felt spaced out and lethargic. At one point, while propped up in a chair, Monroe watched his daughter walk down the hallway of their home. He struggled to recognize her, and even questioned who she was.
“At that point, I decided I’d never take those pills again,” Monroe said. “They were definitely taking the pain away, but they were causing problems with me not recognizing family members and causing mental stress. Pills are addictive. I’ve seen it in my own household with my mom overdosing on heroin as a result of an addiction spurning from a prescription of pills for a car accident.”
According to the study “Injury, Pain, and Prescription Opioid Use Among Former National Football League (NFL) Players,” where 644 retired NFL players were surveyed, 52 percent used opioids during their NFL career, with 71 percent admitting to misuse.
“I continue to do this because it’s not just me and it’s not just the few players people hear about,” Monroe said. “It’s hundreds and thousands of guys who played football, period, who are dealing with things, whether issues related to potential brain damage or issues that they deal with physically, and everything else in between.
“Cannabis does help, and I’m not going to be shy about talking about it because of what people believe. At one point I hated cannabis. I grew up in a house where it was around all the time, but I also saw people get arrested all the time for it, so I had a very negative connotation for it and I believed all the bad things I was taught about it. Unfortunately, people believe that people involved with cannabis are bad. I do know it’s healthier than what we’re doing in sports in general now, and I believe that we can come up with a responsible way to implement it into sports.”
With football in his rearview mirror, Monroe is focused on educating, awareness and policy change. The former football player now serves as a board member of the NFL Players Association pain management committee, and also as an athletics ambassador for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana in the United States, according to his website.
“We’ve actually reached out to the NFL to no avail, but hopefully through these continued efforts we’ll make a difference, whether it’s in the NFL, another league or just the overall impact we might have on marijuana access for people in general,” Monroe said.
A year and two months after announcing his retirement, Monroe has no regrets about leaving football after nearly two decades on the field. Family, advocacy and being healthy are now top priorities. The former tackle continues to train, and he uses cannabis every day before and after workouts to alleviate pain. Monroe said cannabis has replaced all of the pharmaceuticals he took before. There are no more anti-inflammatory pills, which he described as a “crucial tool” in his previous therapy.
As for football, Monroe doesn’t hate the game. If he happens to catch the game, he will watch to see how friends and former teammates are doing, and hoping they are healthy on the field. But for the most part, Sundays are now reserved for family time.
“I do struggle with what I feel about [the game],” Monroe said. “I’m not a person who’s doom and gloom on football. I think the future is really laid out, and it’s important to understand what that might look like and also try to fix it now as much as I can — as much as any player can. I love the sport, and I hope that we can make it healthier.”