Ben Utecht never thought much about injuries, much less neurological issues, when he played football. He went from being a high school star in Minnesota, to being a four-year starter at the University of Minnesota. He then achieved the ultimate in football, by winning the 2006 Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
Utecht was a talented, smart tight end, who understood and endured the bumps and bruises that inherently came from playing a rough sport such as football.
But all of his drive, determination, and even willingness to play through injuries, was no match for overcoming the damage left by five documented concussions during his NFL career.
Utecht went from the high of winning the Super Bowl, to three years later, retiring from the game in 2009 over health concerns stemming from concussions.
His elite football career, and the devastating concussions he endured from the game, has led him to being an outspoken – and influential – advocate for sports brain injury awareness.
“It took losing my mind to begin caring for mind,” Utecht says. “Our relevance in this life comes from our memories. We are living memories that should cherish the miracle of the brain better. Caring is the core of changing the nature that says, ‘Winning is more important than remembering’.”
Utecht uses his rich experiences and authentic voice to discuss brain injury awareness. He is open and honest about his ongoing neurocognitive issues, such as memory loss, and sheds a personal light on one of the most-discussed injuries in sports today.
Utecht is a sought-after expert in the media to discuss concussions and brain injuries in sports and football, and also speaks to groups around the country. He testified about his experiences with concussions and football at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2014, as well as appearing as a featured expert panelist at the 2015 South by Southwest Sports festival in Austin, Texas on the topic of brain health and sports.
He serves as the national spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation. He has earned honors for his brave honesty and advocacy, receiving the 2014 Public Leadership in Neurology Award from the American Academy of Neurology.
“It is such an honor to work alongside the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation,” Utecht explains. “Their mission is to cure brain disease, and that is something that I believe will become a reality. The more we begin to care about the brain, the more we care about the essence of who we are.”
Utecht remains an avid football fan, and he seeks ways to make the game safer for kids who are learning how to play – as well as those who have followed into his footsteps by playing in college and the NFL. He wants boys and girls, especially his own four young daughters, to enjoy sports and remain safe.
Utecht seeks to empower athletes, as well as their coaches and parents, to make stronger choices by better understanding concussions and the possible ramifications to the brain of playing contact sports.
“I will always enjoy the game of football, but it can continue to get better,” Utecht says. “My greatest concern is for our children. We need to put the brain health of our children as priority No. 1. There is no debating putting children at higher risk for brain damage or disease.”