Ten weeks after George Koonce made a powerful statement about life after football, the retired linebacker is helping the NFL address some of the issues he highlighted.
Koonce has agreed to join an advisory board charged with developing programs for counselors and life transition coaches as part of a newly established NFL Total Wellness initiative. The move is a natural one for Koonce, who detailed his own struggles upon leaving the game -- struggles that included a suicide attempt when he drove his car off the road while rounding a corner in North Carolina.
"I am extremely excited to be involved because this is an excellent opportunity for me to share my research, experience and ideas," Koonce said in an email Thursday. "This board will be another key component for improving the difficult transition into the afterlife for current and future NFL players."
Koonce, who finished his career with Seattle in 2000 after eight seasons with Green Bay, was submitting a doctoral dissertation on life after football when news broke that former San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau had taken his life on May 2.
"No one wants to hear about another tragic loss like that of Junior Seau," Koonce wrote in his email. "I believe we can prepare players more by providing them with information, resources and support for their post career. Success is in the game plan and every player needs one for the afterlife!"
Former NFL cornerback and NFL Players Association president Troy Vincent is among those putting together the advisory board. The league already announced plans for an telephone hotline players can access anonymously for consultation with mental health professionals.
It's good to see the NFL taking real steps on such an important issue. As Koonce wrote in his May 15 piece on ESPN.com:
"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."