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Surviving Life after Football (1 Viewer)

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Former NFL linebacker George Koonce recently submitted to Marquette University a doctoral dissertation on transitioning from life outside the game. This column represents his personal experience, as told to NFC West blogger Mike Sando.

I had a wonderful wife, beautiful children, money in the bank and a Super Bowl ring back on that day in 2003 when my post-NFL transition took my Chevy Suburban around a 25-mph corner at three times the posted speed.

Whatever happened that day was going to happen. I didn't really care.

By the grace of God, I survived what was, in retrospect, a suicide attempt. But paramedics weren't going to cart me off. No chance. The football tough guy in me refused to get into that ambulance. My wife, Tunisia, drove me to the hospital and saved my life with words, not medicine.

"George," she said, "I don't understand what you are going through, but I sympathize. We cannot reinvent who you are, but we can redefine who you are."

Thanks to Tunisia, that car crash in North Carolina was a turning point. I would seek counseling, join a church and continue my education with the goal of becoming an athletic director. Tunisia even insisted I continue my education while she bravely fought the breast cancer that would ultimately claim her life in 2009.

The day Junior Seau committed suicide was also the day I submitted to Marquette University my doctoral dissertation on the difficulties NFL players face in transitioning away from the game. While it's fashionable to blame concussions for Junior's early demise, and it's certainly possible brain trauma played a role, the adjustment to life after football came to my mind immediately.

Eight years as a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers and one with the Seattle Seahawks should have set me up for life. Instead, the tunnel vision and unwavering devotion a football career demanded left me utterly unprepared for anything else.

Football is different from other major sports in that way. Hard work and dedication cannot make you a 7-foot-1 center in the NBA, but it can help a 6-foot-2 linebacker go from 205 to 245 pounds while gaining speed and athleticism. That was the path I followed from undrafted prospect at East Carolina to NFL starting lineups from 1992 to 2000.

I played nine years in the NFL and one in NFL Europe and didn't have any concussions on record. But I did have suicidal thoughts in my first year away from the game. Not all of us suffered concussions, but all of us are going to go through the transition. And if you're like most players, you've spent most of your life focusing on the next play, the next quarter, the next half, the next game, the next offseason.

Look at Dave Duerson. There are more than 200,000 living alums from Notre Dame. Some run major corporations around the world. Becoming a Notre Dame trustee would be a dream for them. Duerson was a trustee at Notre Dame, not only because he was a good football player at one time but because of his business acumen and his dedication to being one of the best safeties in the league. And when that went away, and with the culmination of the concussions he had suffered, he ended his life.

Notice that we're not reading about NBA greats killing themselves. But we have someone like Seau, who might have been the best inside linebacker to ever put on a uniform, and that is what he did on May 2.

I'm not downplaying basketball careers or the work NBA players put in, but in the NFL you have to be obsessed with the role to make it. ("Role engulfment" is the academic term for it.) There are no prodigies in the NFL. There are no Hakeem Olajuwons who show up at the University of Houston from Nigeria and suddenly become the first pick in the draft. In football, you can have someone like my former teammate Desmond Howard win the Heisman Trophy and become Super Bowl MVP after everyone told him he was too small, too short and too slow. He has a heart the size of Wisconsin and simply will not quit.

You say, "You know what, I'm going to prove Peter King wrong or Chris Berman wrong or my childhood friend who said I couldn't make it." So you get even more consumed, more isolated in football, and then you have no skill set once the game is finished with you.

In college, my day was sketched out for me, from 6:30 a.m. until 9 o'clock at night. There was no difference when I transitioned to the NFL. It was all about trying to win a championship, trying to get prepared. The role engulfs you even more. They pay those NFL assistant coaches well to show George how to drop back into the flat or cover a running back. I didn't have those life coaches when I left the game. That support system disappeared, and I was lost.

When that day comes and they say your services are no longer needed, you are in a very lonely and dark place. That first year out of football, I drank. I can distinctly remember going into Wal-Mart and buying the first season of "Law & Order" and watching it alone at our beach place from Thursday through Sunday night. It was such a lonely time. And it was on the drive back home that I took that turn at 75 mph just to see what would happen.

One month, I was returning an interception for a touchdown during a Seahawks victory over Atlanta. The next month, I was finished. Even my agent stopped calling. I'd spoken to him on the phone three or four times a day since signing with him out of college, and now he wouldn't take my calls. I'd had a decent 2000 season, finishing second on the Seahawks in tackles, but I was 32 years old, had a bad knee and was suddenly expendable.

In the locker room, we want to talk about how we're going to get past the Cowboys or 49ers. We're not talking about weaknesses. We're not talking about being scared. When guys start feeling that way in retirement, they go off by themselves and they start self-medicating: drinking, taking pain pills, taking narcotics, trying to fill that void.

Football becomes your identity. Your family buys into it, your friends buy into it, the alums from your college buy into it. And then it is gone. You are gone.

What can we do to help?

The NFL and NFL Players Association just hammered out a 10-year agreement. How much money is allocated toward players' transition away from the game? What about deferring some of the players' salaries until they reach a certain age and have matured enough to use it more wisely?

We hear about mentors when the focus should be on sponsors -- someone who goes beyond pointing athletes in the right direction, helping to personally make the introductions that make all the difference.

At the college level, Title IX forced the NCAA to account for women's athletics. Why can't the NCAA implement a senior level position for player and community development?

The average NFL career lasts only a few years. The game requires a player's unconditional investment while promising a very conditional and one-dimensional return. It produces too many athletes unprepared for anything else. More of them than we know will have thoughts like the ones I had coming around that curve in Kinston, N.C.

It's time to do more about it.

George Koonce played professional football for 10 years -- eight years in Green Bay, one year in Seattle and one year in NFL Europe -- and helped the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl XXXI title. Koonce has served as senior associate athletics director at Marquette University, athletics director at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, director of player development for the Packers and special assistant to the athletic director at East Carolina University. In his current role as director of development for Marquette, Koonce raises money for the Urban Scholars Program, which affords first-generation college students from diverse backgrounds opportunities to receive college educations.







http://espn.go.com/b...e-after-the-nfl

 
The rationale side of me feels sorry for these people, I can't imagine what it's like having to make a transistion to "normal" after being in the NFL. The jerk side of me sees it as some dude who got the fame, fortune, and lived the dream for years and is now whining because it's over.

 
The rationale side of me feels sorry for these people, I can't imagine what it's like having to make a transistion to "normal" after being in the NFL. The jerk side of me sees it as some dude who got the fame, fortune, and lived the dream for years and is now whining because it's over.
I'm sorry.I guess i am a jerk as well.wha, i made millions and now no one calls me.wha, child movie stars have it hard, they get home schooled, don't get to have a normal life or real friendswha, models have it hard, wake up early stay up late working wha, movie stars have it hard, they have to leave their families for months at a time and when their moves suck no one calls them eitherHow about people who work 2-3 jobs support 4 kids, a sick parent and a bum car.I don't get some of these people, you have a choice EVERY single day you wake up to leave you 800k job, and go get a 40k job doing something less demanding mentally and physically.What choice does a single mom have making min wage?mac n cheese or PB &J?Rent or medicine for my kid?I get it, I am sure the mental transition from NFL fame to nothing is huge for these guys, but but having tunnel vision for only football thus leaving you unprepared for anything else is your fault, sorry.Plenty of players move on and do something else in coaching, media or general business.When a wife stays home to care for her kids for 20 years, doesn't go to school, gives up her time, life, goals etc then her husband leaves her or dies, guess what, she has to figure out a way to do something with her life./end rant
 
The rationale side of me feels sorry for these people, I can't imagine what it's like having to make a transistion to "normal" after being in the NFL. The jerk side of me sees it as some dude who got the fame, fortune, and lived the dream for years and is now whining because it's over.
This is my initial thought as well.
 
The rationale side of me feels sorry for these people, I can't imagine what it's like having to make a transistion to "normal" after being in the NFL. The jerk side of me sees it as some dude who got the fame, fortune, and lived the dream for years and is now whining because it's over.
I'm sorry.I guess i am a jerk as well.wha, i made millions and now no one calls me.wha, child movie stars have it hard, they get home schooled, don't get to have a normal life or real friendswha, models have it hard, wake up early stay up late working wha, movie stars have it hard, they have to leave their families for months at a time and when their moves suck no one calls them eitherHow about people who work 2-3 jobs support 4 kids, a sick parent and a bum car.I don't get some of these people, you have a choice EVERY single day you wake up to leave you 800k job, and go get a 40k job doing something less demanding mentally and physically.What choice does a single mom have making min wage?mac n cheese or PB &J?Rent or medicine for my kid?I get it, I am sure the mental transition from NFL fame to nothing is huge for these guys, but but having tunnel vision for only football thus leaving you unprepared for anything else is your fault, sorry.Plenty of players move on and do something else in coaching, media or general business.When a wife stays home to care for her kids for 20 years, doesn't go to school, gives up her time, life, goals etc then her husband leaves her or dies, guess what, she has to figure out a way to do something with her life./end rant
:goodposting: that sums it up.../thread
 
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I get it, I am sure the mental transition from NFL fame to nothing is huge for these guys, but but having tunnel vision for only football thus leaving you unprepared for anything else is your fault, sorry.Plenty of players move on and do something else in coaching, media or general business.When a wife stays home to care for her kids for 20 years, doesn't go to school, gives up her time, life, goals etc then her husband leaves her or dies, guess what, she has to figure out a way to do something with her life.
Truth.
 
Also a lot of these guys do get a complete college education on top of all of that in comparison to many who have to drop out of high school (to raise siblings, help support family, etc.)

 
I get it, I am sure the mental transition from NFL fame to nothing is huge for these guys, but but having tunnel vision for only football thus leaving you unprepared for anything else is your fault, sorry.
I'm not sure he's saying anything differently. I can say something is my fault, but then still suggest certain programs be put in place to help others. I don't see any whining in this article. I think he's just telling us his story and what he thinks might help.
Plenty of players move on and do something else in coaching, media or general business.
Sure, but that doesn't mean they don't have a hard time with the transition. It sounds like Koonce is currently in a good place, but he went through some bad times to get there. Could be true for the guys that end up in coaching, media, or general business. I'm sure many guys make the transition smoothly. But, that doesn't mean that the rest of them can get there nearly as easily. You can't just throw money at suicidal thoughts.
When a wife stays home to care for her kids for 20 years, doesn't go to school, gives up her time, life, goals etc then her husband leaves her or dies, guess what, she has to figure out a way to do something with her life.
Nobody is saying she doesn't have it hard too. And, really, not every woman in that situation does something with their life in that situation. Some make it work immediately. Some may take a while. Others never turn it around.Making lots of money doesn't eliminate all of life's problems. It eliminates some problems, has no effect on other problems, and creates some problems of its own. To me, that's the point of all of this. People think rich football players should just smile and shut up about whatever they are going through. And, guess what. That's what they usually do. But, they do have problems and smiling and shutting up doesn't help.
 
I get it, I am sure the mental transition from NFL fame to nothing is huge for these guys, but but having tunnel vision for only football thus leaving you unprepared for anything else is your fault, sorry.
I'm not sure he's saying anything differently. I can say something is my fault, but then still suggest certain programs be put in place to help others. I don't see any whining in this article. I think he's just telling us his story and what he thinks might help.
Plenty of players move on and do something else in coaching, media or general business.
Sure, but that doesn't mean they don't have a hard time with the transition. It sounds like Koonce is currently in a good place, but he went through some bad times to get there. Could be true for the guys that end up in coaching, media, or general business. I'm sure many guys make the transition smoothly. But, that doesn't mean that the rest of them can get there nearly as easily. You can't just throw money at suicidal thoughts.
When a wife stays home to care for her kids for 20 years, doesn't go to school, gives up her time, life, goals etc then her husband leaves her or dies, guess what, she has to figure out a way to do something with her life.
Nobody is saying she doesn't have it hard too. And, really, not every woman in that situation does something with their life in that situation. Some make it work immediately. Some may take a while. Others never turn it around.Making lots of money doesn't eliminate all of life's problems. It eliminates some problems, has no effect on other problems, and creates some problems of its own. To me, that's the point of all of this. People think rich football players should just smile and shut up about whatever they are going through. And, guess what. That's what they usually do. But, they do have problems and smiling and shutting up doesn't help.
agree, they do have problems, what they also have are resources most would only dream of.sure programs could be put in place to make people smarter more prepared, I dont know that here aren't already, wouldn't surprise if there are programs readily available, but hey probably aren't any fun. they probably advocate stuff like saving money and preparing for the future...even if they don't have any sort of program or guidance they most certainly have the resources to look for some assistance or guidance at any point.
 
OK, Mr. George Koonce, Do you wanna hear my story now?

The nerve of these entitled football players to think that they should get sympathy. Maybe you should of saved money, invested, lined up something for when your career is over. I'm sorry did NFL players forget how to be adults and prepare for their future?

This story is pathetic and so are the stories of people who suffer from CSE, it was your choice to play the game. If you had no clue that football was high risk you deserve your bell rung anyways.

Stop crying it makes me hate football players more.

 
OK, Mr. George Koonce, Do you wanna hear my story now?The nerve of these entitled football players to think that they should get sympathy. Maybe you should of saved money, invested, lined up something for when your career is over. I'm sorry did NFL players forget how to be adults and prepare for their future?This story is pathetic and so are the stories of people who suffer from CSE, it was your choice to play the game. If you had no clue that football was high risk you deserve your bell rung anyways.Stop crying it makes me hate football players more.
If you are so disgusted with football players, quit watching and supporting said players.Koonce is making a case that the transition and difficulty with it may have more to do with mental issues than concussions. Of course, medical doctors will say otherwise for whatever reason however the living and breathing of football for ~20 years (as Koonce states as his schedule was laid out for him 7am - 9pm) can be difficult to overcome. I am not suggesting that Seau killed himself for this reason but the depression that follows the lack of attention that used to be an everyday thing can lead to what Seau did. The implications Koonce makes are the other side of the coin and a valid point as well.
 
Wow! Some really harsh criticism in here.

I don't think George Koonce was comparing the difficulties football players face to the difficulties the average American or FBG faces, but I do think he makes a very interesting argument about the difference between the culture and physical/mental consequences of football vs. other professional sports.

I found it to be an interesting read rather than an insulting one; it did cause me to think a bit (also reinforced my desire not to wish an NFL career upon my own son FWIW).

Kinda surprised at the negative gut reaction from several FBGs right out of the chute... :unsure:

 
OK, Mr. George Koonce, Do you wanna hear my story now?The nerve of these entitled football players to think that they should get sympathy. Maybe you should of saved money, invested, lined up something for when your career is over. I'm sorry did NFL players forget how to be adults and prepare for their future?This story is pathetic and so are the stories of people who suffer from CSE, it was your choice to play the game. If you had no clue that football was high risk you deserve your bell rung anyways.Stop crying it makes me hate football players more.
If you are so disgusted with football players, quit watching and supporting said players.Koonce is making a case that the transition and difficulty with it may have more to do with mental issues than concussions. Of course, medical doctors will say otherwise for whatever reason however the living and breathing of football for ~20 years (as Koonce states as his schedule was laid out for him 7am - 9pm) can be difficult to overcome. I am not suggesting that Seau killed himself for this reason but the depression that follows the lack of attention that used to be an everyday thing can lead to what Seau did. The implications Koonce makes are the other side of the coin and a valid point as well.
Still will never feel sorry for a very rich grown man who has a choice to make, yet makes the bad one.Anyone who kills themself is a coward anyways, cant face real life so take an easy way out.But lets not talk about that, lets just feel sorry for more rich people. You can, I wont.
 
Wow! Some really harsh criticism in here.I don't think George Koonce was comparing the difficulties football players face to the difficulties the average American or FBG faces, but I do think he makes a very interesting argument about the difference between the culture and physical/mental consequences of football vs. other professional sports.I found it to be an interesting read rather than an insulting one; it did cause me to think a bit (also reinforced my desire not to wish an NFL career upon my own son FWIW). Kinda surprised at the negative gut reaction from several FBGs right out of the chute... :unsure:
hockey was not in his comparison. also extremely physically demanding, I would guess majority of rookies coming in already have had quite a few teeth knocked out. hockey practices start at 5am as for kids before they are even teenagers. if you are a great hockey player in a poor European country the best chance to make it big usually requires you to leave your family as early as 10-13 years old to go live in some others country without your family.Hockey players also live a life a life and culture where they eat breathe and sleep hockey for a large portion of their life until hockey is done with them.I kinda view the article with some good ideas, and awarenessess that should be raised for players coming into the NFL that hey should better prepare themselves for life after football, but i also can't help feeling the comparisons of hearing Kim Kardashian complaining about paparazzi not allowing her to have a private life.while paparazzi are scum at times and intrusive, you know what you are getting into, and at any point....you can give it up.....if you want.
 
Kinda surprised at the negative gut reaction from several FBGs right out of the chute... :unsure:
Oh, c'mon - you've been around longer than me. ;) Suprised at negative in the SP? Shoot.Actually, I like the Brandon Marshall piece much better (it's also on the front page here somewhere.)
 
OK, Mr. George Koonce, Do you wanna hear my story now?The nerve of these entitled football players to think that they should get sympathy. Maybe you should of saved money, invested, lined up something for when your career is over. I'm sorry did NFL players forget how to be adults and prepare for their future?This story is pathetic and so are the stories of people who suffer from CSE, it was your choice to play the game. If you had no clue that football was high risk you deserve your bell rung anyways.Stop crying it makes me hate football players more.
If you are so disgusted with football players, quit watching and supporting said players.Koonce is making a case that the transition and difficulty with it may have more to do with mental issues than concussions. Of course, medical doctors will say otherwise for whatever reason however the living and breathing of football for ~20 years (as Koonce states as his schedule was laid out for him 7am - 9pm) can be difficult to overcome. I am not suggesting that Seau killed himself for this reason but the depression that follows the lack of attention that used to be an everyday thing can lead to what Seau did. The implications Koonce makes are the other side of the coin and a valid point as well.
Still will never feel sorry for a very rich grown man who has a choice to make, yet makes the bad one.Anyone who kills themself is a coward anyways, cant face real life so take an easy way out.But lets not talk about that, lets just feel sorry for more rich people. You can, I wont.
I personally would not go this far, in defense of football (and all sports players) too much new information is coming out about CTE and the lifelong effects it will have on your mind. yes, I agree it was their choice to play the game, but 20 years ago when he got into the nfl CTE was probably never even mentioned. I don't fault people dealing with mesothelioma now for having taken a job dealing with asbestos in paints and insulations in the 60's, 70's and 80's. you knew you were gonna get your bell rung playing Football, but you probably never understood you would be at such a higher risk of dementia at such early ages. or the mental/emotional damages a life of football will leave you with that never was once so visibly connected as we now see.my guess is all the parents on this board saying the will not allow their kids to play football or hope their kids pursue another sport probably did not feel that way just 5 years ago.
 

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