Former Baltimore Raven Eugene Monroe announced his retirement from the NFL in a piece titled “Leaving the Game I Love,” published online at The Player’s Tribune on July 21.
The 29-year-old athlete said he is choosing his health over the sport he has dedicated his life to since age 11.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe suffered through myriad injuries this season, including a conussion and recurring shoulder injury, and was placed on injured reserve Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
“The last 18 years have been full of traumatic injuries to both my head and my body. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact,” Monroe wrote. “Has the damage to my brain already been done? Do I have CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)? I hope I don’t, but over 90 percent of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease. I am terrified.”
According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), “a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury…caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.”
An athlete can be injured when this abrupt movement happens because their brain may “bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain,” according to the CDC.
Though the CDC states a concussion is “usually not life-threatening,” repeated traumatic brain injuries can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. The disease can only be detected after death, when doctors can examine a subject’s brain for indicators. Symptoms of CTE include decreased executive functioning, memory loss, and a range of mood disorders from depression to increased aggressiveness, irritability, and suicidal thoughts.
Monroe said that he and his wife have joked about his memory loss in the past, but he said those laughs have stopped as the number of behaviors he exhibits that align with CTE symptoms have increased.
“Now she’s more concerned about things like me putting my phone in the freezer and then tearing up our house looking for it,” Monroe wrote. “Things like that were just a joke around the house until this past winter, when my four-year-old daughter said, ‘Daddy you don’t remember anything!’ Since then, she’s said it a few more times.”
CTE has seen increased discussion amid media coverage of athlete and soldier suicides related to the disease. Particularly, the hard hits suffered by young football players have been a source of growing concern.
In a recent study completed by the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell Center for Public Opinion Research, surveyors found that 78 percent of the 1,000 participants in the study believed that tackle football should not be an option for children under 14.
“There is widespread awareness that concussions and post-concussion syndrome are caused by sports and represent a significant public health issue,” the CDC said in a statement. “Majorities of Americans would favor changes to youth sports; large majorities do not believe that tackle football or heading the ball in soccer are appropriate until they reach high school.”
Monroe suspects his first concussion came years before he was in high school, when he “laid out teammate after teammate” during a practice drill that made his coach deliriously happy.
Monroe recalled “feeling dizzy and disoriented after the drill was over.”
“Was that my first concussion?” he wrote. “Probably, but nobody seemed too worried about head trauma in 1998. I shook it off and continued to battle. It would become a never-ending cycle: injury, shake it off, ‘recover,’ repeat.”
According to research completed by the Boston University School of Medicine last year, “there is an association between participation in tackle football prior to age 12 and greater later-life cognitive impairment.” These impairments included “executive dysfunction, memory impairment, and lower estimated verbal IQ.”
Monroe was a top-rated offensive lineman during his time with the University of Virginia. In 2009 he was drafted for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line, and joined the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. Monroe has been a staunch advocate for the removal of marijuana from the list of banned substances for players—a list he says doesn’t include the prescription opioids pumped into NFL players to keep them numb to pain on the field. Monroe was released from the Baltimore Ravens in June.
In his retirement, Monroe wrote he is “fully committing to pushing for the league to accept cannabis as a viable option for pain management, fund more CTE research and stop over-prescribing opioids.”