Former NFL tight end speaks at concussion symposium
Ben Utecht's football career was on the rise as a tight end for the University of Minnesota more than 15 years ago.
From there, it was on to the NFL, where he played six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. It was with the Colts where he won a super bowl ring in 2007.
On Friday, Utecht spoke at a symposium at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire about his playing days. However, it was about how repeated concussions forced him out of the game and took away parts of his memory.
"We use sports as kind of a really unique and powerful platform, I think, to educate people on how serious concussions really are and that they affect the most important part of who you are – which is your brain," Utecht said to WEAU 13 News on Friday.
Utecht's message wasn't just for professional football players.
A study from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children and adolescents in the nation.
"There's risk for concussion in any sport that there's a possibility of a head injury and so it's important to raise awareness across all different sports," Dr. Scott Spritzer, with the neurology department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, said to WEAU 13 News on Friday.
Last season in the NFL, there were 244 reported incidents of concussion. While that number appears to be high, Dr. Michael Stuart, the chair of Mayo Clinic’s Division of Sports Medicine, said numbers like that don't necessarily mean more athletes are now suddenly suffering concussions.
"Parents, healthcare providers, coaches now understand some of the symptoms and signs and we're more likely to remove athletes from play and have them evaluated,” he said to WEAU 13 News on Friday. “So, it appears that they're happening more often, but actually we're just getting better at making the diagnosis."
Success for Utecht was not measured Friday by points on a scoreboard, but in knowing what he has around him and can still enjoy.
"I think it's given me kind of a renovated, reinvigorated perspective on my own life – which is kind of interesting to say, since it is regarding an injury that ended my career," he said.