George Koonce and the post-NFL transition

Most of us in the upper Midwest are familiar with George Koonce, who played eight seasons as a Green Bay Packers linebacker (1992-99) and has served stints in the athletic departments at Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What you might not know is that earlier this month, Koonce submitted a doctoral dissertation to Marquette about the transition of retiring football players.

The topic is quite timely after the recent suicide of longtime NFL linebacker Junior Seau. NFC West blogger Mike Sando obtained a copy of the dissertation and spoke with Koonce for a post that was published Tuesday. (Koonce played one season for the NFC West's Seattle Seahawks.)

Among things, Koonce wants all of us to think about the issues ex-players face independent of their physical problems or possible concussion history. Here's a snippet of what Koonce told Sando:

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 had 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 1992-2000.

I played nine years in the NFL, 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.

I urge you to read the entire post over on the NFC West blog.