Koonce’s own struggles fuel study of ex-players

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

MILWAUKEE (AP) - George Koonce holds several years’ worth of work in his hands, his voice booming as he reads from one of its 200-plus pages.

First comes an acknowledgment that it’s difficult for regular people to have sympathy for wealthy former NFL players who have a hard time handling the end of their careers. Next comes a plea to coaches and administrators.

“The message being sent to players at an early age, in middle school, high school, and on the professional level, needs to include information on the afterlife,” Koonce reads.

In this case, the former NFL player isn’t using the term “afterlife” with a religious connotation. He’s talking about life after football.

“The pursuit of a quality education, and diversification of interests, needs to be top priority for these young men,” he continues. “Football must be secondary. From the perspective of great teachers and philosophers, it is demeaning and foolish to reduce people to just their athletic prowess.”

Having found out firsthand that a member of a Super Bowl-winning team isn’t necessarily wired for instant success off the field, Koonce used his own struggles _ which included depression and even a suicide attempt _ to fuel a dissertation on the issues former players face in retirement, one of the final steps toward earning his doctorate in philosophy at Marquette University. Koonce knew he wasn’t alone, a point that was driven home in innumerable conversations with fellow former NFL players during his research.

Then again, tragically, on May 2.

That was the day Koonce turned in his dissertation. Then he returned to his office.

“That’s when I saw the news flash about Junior Seau,” Koonce said.

Koonce calls the former star linebacker’s suicide heartbreaking _ but perhaps not shocking, given that Koonce nearly met the same fate.

After eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers _ playing a critical role in the team’s run to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season _ and one with the Seattle Seahawks, Koonce found himself out of football after the 2000 season. At first, he just kept working out and waiting for the phone to ring. Surely, another team needing a linebacker would be calling.

Koonce said it took about two years to realize that call wasn’t coming.

“I wasn’t used to that,” Koonce said. “Because I was the best at everything I did. Now, I’ve been, the academic term, `deselected.’ Cut.”

Koonce’s voice grows louder and more deliberate as he talks about the sense of rejection he felt.

“Waived,” he said. “Told, `We don’t need you anymore.’ That was tough for me to live through that. The first time I’ve ever really been rejected.”

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • Nathan Walker waits to take the ice during the Capitals' development camp at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Monday, July 9, 2012. (Ryan M.L. Young/The Washington Times)

    Nathan Walker’s NHL dreams send him around the world

  • Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon, third from left, smiles as he warms up with his teammates who were were wearing t-shirts in support of him for the All Star game before an interleague baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Anthony Rendon not an All-Star, but he’s been Nats’ MVP

  • Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks during a media availability in the dugout before an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, July 7, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    LOVERRO: Suck-up Buck Showalter needs history lesson

  • Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez, left, celebrates with goalkeeper Sergio Romero after scoring the decisive goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup final. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Argentina beats Dutch in shootout to reach World Cup final

  • Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson speaks during a media availability after an NFL football training camp practice at Redskins Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely by NFL — again

  • Celebrities In The News
  • Hall of Fame Inductees, KISS, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Gene Simmons, and Ace Frehley speak at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Thursday, April, 10, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

    KISS rocker Gene Simmons touts 1 percent life: ‘It’s fantastic’

  • This image from video released by Funny Or Die shows President Obama, left, with actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis during an appearance on "Between Two Ferns," the digital short with a laser focus on reaching people aged 18 to 34. The president urged young people to sign up for the new health care plan through an appearance posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014, on the comic website Funny or Die, bypassing TV talk show titans like Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel for an online audience. (AP Photo/Funny Or Die)

    Obama’s ‘Ferns’ interview gets Emmy nod

  • ** FILE ** In this Nov. 12, 2013, file photo, actor Alec Baldwin leaves court in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

    Alec Baldwin in talks to play Rob Ford-like mayor in new NBC drama