FanDuel - WFBC

May 17, 2012

Surviving life after the NFL: 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.

posted by apoch to football at 10:51 AM - 19 comments

Great article and it demonstrates clearly how difficult it is to attribute depression to injury while there are so many emotional feelings also involved in a players retirement. When an entire life and personal identity is built around a career that suddenly ends at such an early age, especially considering for most of these guys, their lives have revolved around football since childhood, it is very possible a player like Seau just could not adjust.

It is common in our society for men especially, to be identified with what they do for a living. One of the first questions men are typically asked when meeting new people is "what do you do". When you no longer have that answer you can take pride in, life can be very depressing for some. I once read that the most common trigger for suicide in men is #1 the loss of their job which they see as their identity, and #2 is divorce. Both instances of a feeling of rejection, loss of purpose and identity.

IMO this may be a bigger factor than any injury, the emotional feeling of being rejected because you are no longer useful, or able and therefore useless when you once had value. Football is very brutal in that sense, where you were once highly valued, you very quickly become old, slow, and expendable. Then you get to watch as the younger and stronger push you aside and take your place.

posted by Atheist at 11:48 AM on May 17

I think you're trying too hard not to see the elephant in the room. Where is the epidemic of baseball suicides? They go through the same transition from star athlete to retirement as NFL players.

posted by rcade at 11:55 AM on May 17

I think baseball is the wrong sport to compare -- the vast majority of major-league players have spent time in the minors, which is a different animal from college football. I also wonder how many jobs there are in baseball for ex-players, since you have the minors plus colleges to coach in, while football only has colleges.

With that in mind, there doesn't seem to be a similar epidemic of basketball suicides.

posted by Etrigan at 12:56 PM on May 17

rcade, did you read the article? Koonce actually addresses that point, claiming that life in the NFL is different than in any other sport.

posted by apoch at 01:07 PM on May 17

Assuming you are referring to this ...

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 don't buy it. All major sports at the top level require natural physical attributes, tunnel vision and "unwavering" devotion to the game.
 
Football is different because of the physical toll it exacts on the players. But set aside the sport itself, and the challenges faced by an ex-football great are the same as those faced by an ex-soccer great or an ex-baseball great. And hard work and dedication would not make the 6-foot-3 me fast and athletic enough for the NFL, college or most high schools.
 
Baseball players may have more jobs available to them in semi-pro levels of their sport, but all ex-pros have schools to coach at and some level of local renown they can turn into employment. Mark Brunell, whose NFL money is gone, is working in my county as a pharmaceutical sales rep.
 
Is it tough to leave behind money, fame and glory and live a regular guy life? I'm guessing yes. But there are former actors, business executives, politicians and many people in other walks of life who tumble down the same mountain. And how about the athletes who devote their lives to a sport and never reach the top level?

posted by rcade at 01:28 PM on May 17

Football is different because of the physical toll it exacts on the players. But set aside the sport itself, and the challenges faced by an ex-football great are the same as those faced by an ex-soccer great or an ex-baseball great. And hard work and dedication would not make the 6-foot-3 me fast and athletic enough for the NFL, college or most high schools.

The biggest difference between football and baseball is the scheduling.

For football, you work/prepare every week for one game. There are only 16 games (usually) in the season.

For baseball, you work/prepare for a game almost every day. There are 162 games (usually) in the season.

The football player might get used to a regulated lifestyle with culmination at the end of the week. The lack of this "payoff" day might make things difficult to handle when the career is done. What's the point of the week if there isn't anything to do at the end of it?

The baseball player might get used to the daily grind of always playing/traveling for 6 straight months. When transitioning to the retired life, they may simply replace one grind (baseball) with another (golf). That might make life easier to move on for baseball players.

posted by grum@work at 02:00 PM on May 17

Another issue that plagues ex football players more than some sports is recognition. Since football players wear helmets and face masks during play, unless they are superstars and have a lot of TV endorsements, or become commentators, they are not as recognizable by the general public. While their physical presence may remain due to their size, just how many people will recognize a Junior Seau in street clothing? He was a big star on the field but does the average person recognize his face away from the game? Where is the epidemic of baseball suicides?

Where is the epidemic of football suicides? There have been a couple and some were over personal problems. I have not seen any credible evidence that there is an epidemic, or that statistically there is a substantially higher rate. I am not playing down the danger of concussions but from a scientific standpoint it becomes difficult to attribute emotional problems, depression, and suicide to the playing of the game. There are millions of ex high school, college and pro players who live completely normal lives after they are done playing. Also if you consider the use of steroids in the league prior to recent crackdowns, it becomes even more difficult to isolate a single cause to physiological changes in players who may have used PEDs when it went widely unsupervised. If you have an ex player who commits suicide, you can jump to the conclusion that is was football that caused it, but there is other possibilities including those mentioned in the article or just plain coincidence.

I would never suggest not doing more research but as the article pointed, currently it is fashionable it seems to blame the game first.

posted by Atheist at 03:06 PM on May 17

While their physical presence may remain due to their size, just how many people will recognize a Junior Seau in street clothing? He was a big star on the field but does the average person recognize his face away from the game?

Junior Seau was one of the most beloved athletes in San Diego history. There were 20,000 people at his public memorial at Qualcomm Stadium. He did not lack recognition.

posted by rcade at 03:27 PM on May 17

The Seau comment was just an example, but speaking of him, because he committed suicide and it was very high profile, his face was all over the news. I am sure he was one of the most recognizable Chargers ever. How many other retired San Diego Chargers would be recognized walking down the street? It's a rhetorical question, point being very few football players are recognizable out of uniform to the general public. Yes Seau may have been pretty popular around San Diego, but I venture to guess in most places in the US, even he could have walked the streets without many people knowing who he was.

Imagine the average ex non-superstar NFL player. How many of those guys are recognized five years after they leave the game? Or even while they play the game for that matter?

posted by Atheist at 04:20 PM on May 17

20,000 people at his memorial does not prove that people in San Diego can recognize Junior Seau's face.

posted by bender at 04:20 PM on May 17

currently it is fashionable it seems to blame the game first.

This might fly in some parts of the internet but I don't think anyone here at Sportsfilter is down on football because it's the fashionable opinion. We love sports. We love football. We never wanted it to go this way. I think there's a way to fix this but not if we actively ignore the problem.

Ok, you may now return to bending over backwards while grasping at straws and telling us all that the elephant isn't really there.

posted by tron7 at 04:24 PM on May 17

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.

Above was quoted directly from the article written by an incredibly insightful, intelligent, and educated ex football player. I hardly think I was bending over grasping at straws. While I have argued this issue here, and am clearly of a different opinion than some, I find it ironic that so many are quick to imply that football is too dangerous, but aren't condemning boxing, auto racing, motorcycle racing, mountain climbing, surfing, sailing etc... I also found a similar hypocrisy when suggesting that allowing hockey enforcers to beat the shit out of each other was an unnecessary part of the game and could be stopped. Not should be but could be, because in the end as long as those involved are fully informed and willing, that is what life is about.

I am all for knowledge and freedom. If the participants of any sport are fully aware of all the known risks and possibilities, and everything possible is done to investigate, study and mitigate those risks, which is a fluid and changing knowledge base, I believe in the freedom to participate, enjoy and profit. It goes beyond professional sports as many high risk sports are enjoyed by guys like myself who at fifty seven years of age has already had a hip replaced, shoulder surgery, nerve damage, spinal stenosis, herniated discs in the neck and lumbar spine, torn knee ligaments and artritis in several joints. I never made a penny playing football, martial arts, surfing, skiing, sailing, or training, but knowing all the risks I am perfectly satisfied with my choice to participate, and the rewards were and are worth the price I have paid. I would have felt extremely fortunate if I could have made money doing any of those sports I loved, let alone if I could have made millions.

posted by Atheist at 11:00 AM on May 18

I find it ironic that so many are quick to imply that football is too dangerous, but aren't condemning boxing ...

Sports fans here and elsewhere have condemned boxing for years.

posted by rcade at 11:15 AM on May 18

I find it ironic that so many are quick to imply that football is too dangerous, but aren't condemning boxing, auto racing, motorcycle racing, mountain climbing, surfing, sailing etc...

Red herring. Discussion of whether football is dangerous does not imply that it is the only dangerous thing.

posted by Etrigan at 12:17 PM on May 18

Of course not, but football seems to be under the gun so to speak much more lately than other dangerous activities. Not just football in general but NFL football in particular. Why?

To me the issue that is surrounding football isn't restricted to just football. Spectators have been killed during auto races as a direct result of the nature of the sport. Drivers have been killed in races that continued on the same day. If every driver that gets in a car is well aware of the risks and still chooses to participate why should football be any different. Its risky, you can be crippled or killed. It doesn't matter if you are playing high school ball or NFL ball, in the end people make choices. I am not using other dangerous activities to mitigate the discussion, the issue is the same. Should people be risking their lives and health to play a sport for fun or for money, or for the entertainment of others? My answer is, only if they want to.

As long as pro football is open about the dangers, does all they can to mitigate them, does everything possible to reduce the risk, and compensates the participants fairly, then I personally am OK with it.

posted by Atheist at 02:45 PM on May 18

Of course not, but football seems to be under the gun so to speak much more lately than other dangerous activities. Not just football in general but NFL football in particular. Why?

Because football (not just football in general, but NFL football in particular) is the biggest sport in America right now.

Popular sports get more attention because people want to talk/hear about popular sports.

posted by grum@work at 03:04 PM on May 18

If every driver that gets in a car is well aware of the risks and still chooses to participate why should football be any different.

I think the flaw in that argument is that knowledge of the risks involved in playing football is just in its emergent stages. Every rock climber who ever climbed is aware that if they fall, they will splatter on the rocks below. Driviers recognize that going 200 MPH can lead to a deadly accident. The fact that the debilitating effects of repeated head trauma are only beginning to be understood should indicate to you that football players, both past and present, are not "well aware of the risks" of their chosen game.

posted by tahoemoj at 03:20 PM on May 18

"I find it ironic that so many are quick to imply that AIDS needs a vaccine, but aren't working on a vaccine for cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, etc..."

Atheist, if you want to start a conversation about the dangers of other sports, no one is stopping you.

posted by Etrigan at 03:56 PM on May 18

I think the flaw in that argument is that knowledge of the risks involved in playing football is just in its emergent stages.

Plus, the NFL denied it repeatedly for years.

posted by bperk at 10:41 PM on May 18

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