Calvin Johnson. Marshawn Lynch. Jerod Mayo. Patrick Willis. Jake Locker. Chris Borland. And now, Eugene Monroe.
Monroe, a seven-year veteran offensive tackle, announced on The Players’ Tribune on Thursday that he is retiring from the NFL. Like all of those listed above, he is walking away at the relatively young age – Monroe is 29 – and with seemingly plenty left to offer the game. But like many players opting to get out early, Monroe is concerned about his long-term health. Actually, to say he is concerned is an understatement.
“I am terrified,” he wrote.
He wonders how much damage his brain has suffered, wonders if he already has CTE. He is already seeing some signs that have prompted this move.
“My wife used to joke about ‘the little things I forget,’ but 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.”
Monroe plans to be aggressive about his health and an advocate for others in retirement. He’s going to have his body examined extensively, including his brain, so that he doesn’t miss anything.
And he worries about others as well, saying that he plans to continue to lobby the NFL to remove marijuana from the banned substances list – he wants the league to fund medical marijuana research, especially as it relates to CTE, and stop “overprescribing addictive and harmful opioids.”
Through all his worries about his health and his fear of CTE, Monroe stressed that he loves the intensity, the competition and the camaraderie of football. He made it clear that he will miss it. But he also has his eyes wide open about the dangers and acknowledges a culture that pushes and enables a never-ending cycle of “injury, shake it off, ‘recover,’ repeat.”
Unfortunately for the league, the new cycle is going to include players walking away young like Monroe and so many others have done before him. The more aware players become of the long-term dangers they face, the more will decide that it’s just not worth it.
This is a trend that should make the league stand up, take notice and attack the problem aggressively. And we’re talking about doing way more than nudging head-in-the-sand doctors like Elliot Pellman out the door. Continuing to deny the problem and shrug off or even influence research is not the answer. Action is.
The current trend is for players to retire young. But what happens when players start deciding to turn their backs on football even sooner. What happens when kids start deciding that basketball and baseball, soccer and hockey, golf and tennis look like much more appealing, lucrative and safe options?
While the horrors of CTE may have players like Monroe “terrified,” the growing exodus of young talent should have the NFL shaking in its boots.