NFL Nation: Ray Easterling
May, 9, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Jacob Bell's recently announced retirement from the NFL after eight seasons provides the basis for the most recent "Blogger Blitz" video above.
Bell, 31, understandably pointed to the health risks associated with continuing his career. He has suffered multiple concussions over the years. Renewed concerns of health risks following Junior Seau's suicide factored into the decision.
Concussions aren't the only quality-of-life consideration for retired players.
Former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks linebacker George Koonce, who entered the NFL with Seau in 1990, recently submitted a doctoral thesis at Marquette University focusing on another area of critical concern.
I'll pass along additional comments from Koonce, sent by email, as supplementation to the issues Bell raised:
"No one knows exactly what Junior was dealing with, but I do understand the difficulty of the transition he was in. When I retired from the league, I struggled to survive. It is a difficult and lonely time for a player. I had been playing football for most of my life and was engulfed with the role. When my playing days were over, I lost the only sense of identity that I ever knew. I found myself alone for the first time in my life.
"The support of teammates, friends, and family had gone from one extreme to the next. The separation from football was like a divorce and death. I did not prepare for any other career and did not feel as though I had any resources or skills to succeed without football. It took me at least a year after my retirement before I could piece myself back together and face the after-life struggles.
"As time passed, I began to realize that I was not the only one struggling. I started re-connecting with other retired players and the similarities of our struggles like depression, divorce and bankruptcy became apparent to me. I could not help but wonder how so many American football heroes could go from having everything to having nothing at all. ...
"I have identified common elements that contribute to the complexities with the transition out of football. The reality is that the majority of players exiting sport do struggle. Something has to change. I am committed more than ever to take my research to the next level to help prevent any future tragedies like the passing of Junior, Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and my fellow East Carolina Pirate alumni, Terry Long, as well as the suicide attempt by Tony Collins and countless others who have struggled with their transition."
Koonce advocates the NFL and NFL Players Association taking leadership in developing transition plans and support systems for players exiting the game.
That seems increasingly inevitable given recent events.
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