An National Football League player has filed for what may be the league’s first exemption for medical cannabis use, according to the BBC. But, if that’s the case, unfortunately he also received the league’s first denial of such a request.

Free agent Mike James asked the NFL for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to use medical marijuana for chronic pain, but was denied the request in May on the grounds that he did not offer enough proof of his ailment.

James started using cannabis as an alternative to painkillers, which he had developed an addiction to after using it to treat game-related injuries. While playing for the Buccaneers, he started using forms of medical marijuana legal at the time in Florida–legal according to the state, but not permitted according to league rules.

The running back has tested positive twice for cannabis in the last two years, and he says that having to stop and start treatment takes a toll on his health. “When I have to take breaks from cannabis, I can’t medicate. I struggle with weight, spasms, sciatic pain, joint pain, headaches and I’m not able to train,” James says.

James estimates that about half the players in the NFL use cannabis on the sly, having to hide it from their owners. Meanwhile a Washington University study conducted in 2011 found that 52% of retired NFL players used opioid painkillers in the league, and that 70% of players who used painkillers abused them.

James could just keep using marijuana and trying to duck the next drug test, but his official request has become a sort of statement. He says that other players have said they may follow his example. “I had three or four current players reach out to me immediately,” he said. “A lot of people I played with have told me to keep doing it, please keep doing what you’re doing because we all need it.”

“Submitting the TUE was a huge risk,” he said. “I may have sacrificed my career to do it.”

Photo via Flickr user Daniel X. O’Neil