Pubdate: Mon, 16 May 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Ken Belson


Eugene Monroe has had his share of bumps and bruises during his 
seven-year N.F.L. career as an offensive tackle with the Jacksonville 
Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. He has had shoulder injuries, ankle 
sprains, concussions and all the usual wear and tear that comes from 
hitting defenders dozens of times a game.

To deal with these injuries, Monroe has stepped forward and called 
upon the N.F.L. to stop testing players for marijuana so he and other 
players can take the medical version of the drug to treat their 
chronic pain, and avoid the addictive opioids that teams regularly dispense.

"We now know that these drugs are not as safe as doctors thought, 
causing higher rates of addiction, causing death all around our 
country," Monroe said in an interview on Friday, "and we have 
cannabis, which is far healthier, far less addictive and, quite 
frankly, can be better in managing pain."

Retired football players like Kyle Turley and Ricky Williams have 
promoted the benefits of marijuana and called for the league to 
acknowledge those benefits. Monroe, though, may be one of the first 
to openly urge the league to stop testing for the drug, possibly 
risking the wrath of owners, league officials and other players.

In a series of posts on Twitter in March, Monroe castigated 
Commissioner Roger Goodell for refusing to modify the league's stance 
on the drug. Monroe also donated $10,000 to help pay for research on 
the benefits of medical marijuana, and he challenged other players to 
match his gift.

"It's a shame that Roger Goodell would tell our fans there's no 
medical vs. recreational distinction," Monroe wrote.

Last week, Monroe said he had given $80,000 to Realm of Caring, a 
Colorado-based advocacy group that is working with the Johns Hopkins 
University School of Medicine to study the impact of medical 
marijuana on traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic 
encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits 
to the head.

Monroe also started a website about the use of marijuana for pain management.

Though two dozen states now allow the use of some forms of marijuana, 
the N.F.L. has not softened its stance on the drug. Before the Super 
Bowl in February, Goodell said the league's medical advisers 
continued to look at the research but did not have enough evidence to 
warrant a change in the league's position.

"Yes, I agree there have been changes, but not significant enough 
changes that our medical personnel have changed their view," Goodell 
said. "Until they do, then I don't expect that we will change our view."

Even if the N.F.L. changed its position, any changes to the league's 
policy on banned substances would have to be negotiated with the 
N.F.L. Players Association. Monroe said that he had met with the 
association's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, and that talks 
were continuing.

The Players Association, reached by telephone, declined to comment on 
its conversations with Monroe.

According to the league's policy, players are tested for marijuana 
between April 20 and Aug. 9, when teams are in training camp. If a 
player does not test positive, he is not tested again that year.

Players who test positive the first time are referred to the league's 
substance-abuse program. Subsequent violations result in escalating 
punishments: a two-game fine, a four-game fine, a four-game 
suspension, a 10-game suspension and a one-year banishment. In 2014, 
the league also raised the threshold for a positive test from 15 
ng/ml to 35 ng/ml.

Despite the more lenient rules, players are still getting caught, 
including Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who sat out the 
entire 2015 season.

Monroe said that players had told him that they supported his call to 
soften the league's stance on marijuana testing, but no current 
player has publicly backed him. The Ravens' owner, Steve Bisciotti, 
tacitly supported Monroe.

"We're not the ones taking that physical abuse," Bisciotti told "We're not talking about a kid that's been 
suspended three times coming out and saying that. I respect Eugene a 
lot, and I think all he asked for is more studying on the subject."

Coach John Harbaugh, however, disagreed.

"I promise you, he does not speak for the organization," Harbaugh 
told The Baltimore Sun.

Monroe said he was not afraid of any retribution for his stance in 
part because he said he did not use marijuana. But from the research 
he has done, Monroe said the benefits were strong enough to justify 
pushing the league and the union to relax its position, even if it 
hurt his standing in the N.F.L.

"My health is far more important than any possible career 
implications," Monroe said. "I want to be there for my family."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom