By Kris Leonhardt
COLBY — Former Green Bay Packer linebacker George Koonce Jr. was in Colby Oct. 14 to help raise money for the new Colby Community Library.
Koonce, who wore No. 53 and was part of the Super Bowl XXXI championship team, said that promoting education and community involvement have become part of his mission since he left the sport of professional football.
The North Carolina native said that he turned to self medicating following the end of his football career.
“I felt lost, and in a lot of cases I felt helpless,” Koonce said. “I started playing a sport at 9 years old until I was 32, but once the cleats came off and the lights in the stadium went out for me, I didn’t really have a succession plan. That’s where it became a little gray area.”
Out of the 2,500 players that have played for the Green Bay Packers, only two have gone on to receive a Ph.D., “and I am very fortunate to be one of those players,” Koonce said.
He added that the struggle to find their place in life is common for former NFL players, and through mentoring he hopes to spread awareness.
“Seventy-eight percent of players, 24 months after their last game, there is a 75 percent chance that they are going to lose all of their money, so while I was doing my doctorial work and my dissertation at Marquette (University), I said I would love to be able to write something so I can contribute something in a scholarly fashion that people would read and say, ‘You know what? I have a better road map. I have a better way,’” said Koonce, “because I want to talk about those issues and the challenges that players go through when they lose that identity.”
Koonce’s book “Is There Life after Football? Surviving the NFL” relates his story regarding his own struggles in life and life after football.
Koonce is now the senior vice president of university relations at Marian University. He and his second wife, Gina, currently reside in Fond du Lac.
Koonce travels to a different day care center, middle school, high school, or college every Tuesday to spread his message. He and Gina are active in raising funds and awareness for breast cancer. Through “Real Men Wear Pink,” the couple helps fight the disease that claimed Koonce’s first wife.