David Irving wants the world to know that he left football behind to get well, not to smoke weed.
Like many professional football players, Irving suffers from a myriad of medical conditions stemming from the numerous concussions he suffered while a during his career as a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Those conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—all of which developed in the aftermath of head injuries.
"You can check all my medical records. I wasn't diagnosed with any of these things before the NFL," Irving told USA Today. "I've been in what, four and a half years now? It was scary to know I played a sport and am having these concussions and I don't really know how long I'm going to live."
To make matters worse, Irving can't use the medication he prefers for treating his conditions because of the NFL's cannabis ban. Earlier this month, Irving received an indefinite suspension from the league for using medical marijuana. Despite mounting research that shows cannabis could help professional football players treat numerous sports injuries, the NFL has maintained its cannabis ban, even though marijuana is safer and less addictive than the opioid-based medications that players currently use to treat ailments.
Following his latest suspension, Irving said the Cowboy's head coach Jason Garrett had some choice words for him. Garrett was apparently fed up with Irving repeatedly breaching league policies and told him he would need to pick either football or cannabis, a statement that seems symptomatic of the NFL's broader stance on medical marijuana.
"He told me I should just quit, smoke all the weed I want, the team didn't need me," Irving said. "I'm a distraction to the team."
Irving and his coach also disagree on the nature of cannabis itself.
"He views marijuana as a drug, whereas I view it as a medicine. It's not a good situation."
But those sorts of disagreements aren't what led Irving to announce his early retirement from the NFL.
"I didn't quit football to smoke weed," Irving said. "That would be idiotic. I understand that. It's about wellness, about rights."
He added that staying with the game would mean more injuries, more trip to rehab, more time lost with his young daughter and likely more opioids
In the two weeks since his retirement, Irving has already begun to carve a new path for himself as the executive producer of a new docuseries titled 'Shut Up and Tackle,' which will explore the NFL's difficult relationship with medical marijuana. Irving is also launching a new line of cannabis products with sports beverage makers Ghost Beverage.
"I'm a little excited about it all," Irving said. "I have so much I could say and so many directions I can go in."
Irving now joins a growing number of other former NFL players who have become vocal advocates for NFL cannabis policy reform such as Ricky Willaims.