George Koonce, medical experts, discuss concussions

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Former Green Bay Packers linebacker George Koonce joined experts with the Medical College of Wisconsin for a panel held at Marquette University focusing on concussions and their impact on athletes of all ages and skill types.

"I know when I played, a lot of coaches, administrators and players looked at it as being soft - because you really can't see it so you couldn't tell if a guy was faking or not," Koonce said.

Michael McCrea with the Medical College of Wisconsin says it is important to alert athletes, adults and administrators to the short-term and long-term impact of concussions.

"At the same time that our aim is to advance the science, it's really about culture change - educating athletes, parents, coaches as to the potential seriousness of this injury," McCrea said.

McCrea has been studying sports-related brain injuries for nearly 20 years.

"It's been a sea change. In 1995, when we started this work, we couldn't find anyone who wanted to talk about this topic. Now, every morning when I wake up, there's a national media outlet that has a story breaking relating to sport concussions," McCrea said.

One of those stories is the confirmation that former NFL star Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, had CTE, the brain disease common with Alzheimer's patients and former athletes.

Panelists said they are encouraged by a recent UCLA study. For the first time, researchers found in living athletes evidence of the abnormal proteins that lead to CTE. Previously it had only been found in autopsies.

"I am concerned, you know, because I played the same position as Junior Seau played. We came out the same time and now the autopsy showed Junior had CTE and I'm worried about where I'll be four, five, 10 years down the road," Koonce said.

For now, Koonce said he will continue to work to educate and encourage those chasing their own gridiron dreams.

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