At age 30, with five concussions, Ben Utecht battling memory loss

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Former NFL tight end Ben Utecht says five concussions during his playing days have led to memory loss at the age of 30.

Utecht had two concussions in college at Minnesota, two in the NFL with the Colts, and one in training camp in 2009 with the Bengals. He never fully recovered from that last one and never played football again.

Now Utecht and his wife have opened up to USA Today about the way memory loss has affected him already, and the fears they have that it could get worse.

“Will I experience early-onset dementia in my 50s? Will I experience more issues with amnesia or headaches or behavioral changes? All of these things are consequences of brain injury,” Utecht said. “I think now that I’m aware of them — especially now that I’m the father of three beautiful little girls — it’s definitely in my heart and on my mind. I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t.”

Utecht isn’t asking for pity about his lot in life — he’s enjoying his family and has a burgeoning music career — but his wife says she’s concerned about things like the way he forgets appointments and blanks on events that he has attended. He says he’s happy with his life as it is but troubled about the possibility that relatively minor memory loss at age 30 is a very bad sign about what his life will be like at 40, 50 or 60.

“I pray I don’t experience these kinds of situations getting worse,” he says. “That’s why music is so important to me. It gives me hope. I take life as it comes, one day at a time.”

46 responses to “At age 30, with five concussions, Ben Utecht battling memory loss

  1. Sad to hear this. Ben grew up 30 minutes from where I did. I remember hearing about him as a high schooler in Hastings, MN. Very good college TE that had the potential to be a good NFL TE as well. Sad to see his career cut short. Wishing him nothing but the best going forward.

  2. Pretty serious business. Unfortunately, this is a violent contact sport and suffering head injuries is one consequence of playing the game.
    There has to be advances – both in NFL rules and technology to better protect the head, as well as better treatment options otherwise this story is going to be even more common in the future

  3. Glad to see he was able to find something good after football. Hopefully these memory problems don’t get worse with age. Best of luck to him and his family going forward.

  4. I’ve had a few concussions when I was younger, and I’m the same age as Mr. Utecht…I also have some memory loss.
    It’s a bit strange when someone is talking about something you were at, or something you did and you have zero memory of it.

    I too hope it doesn’t get worse for Mr. Utecht, myself, and any others suffering from past brain injuries.

  5. This is the exact reason why the NFL is being tough on guys like Harrison. It’s not worth the money to have dementia at the age of 50

  6. Yeah? And my industrial plumber brother has gnarled fingers.

    Kind of goes with the terrain, doesn’t it?

    These guys go into their profession knowing the risks, and if they don’t, they should have paid better attention in those free college classes they took.

    That said, I sincerely hope his condition only improves.

  7. I feel awful for him. I thought he was gonna have a good year for the Bengals too, sad to see the reason why it never worked out. He had a little side feature in SI’s fantasy issue that year I believe. Wish him well

  8. First of all I hope he will be ok as he gets older. Secondly my grandfather died of black lung from working in the mines. My father died of mesothelioma from working in the mills.
    All jobs have risks. He just got paid better.

  9. That’s really too bad. What I find odd is that while the league has come down on head to head contact and other things, it doesn’t seem to seriously be interested in unifying helmet technology. The league is pretty tight lipped about it and doesn’t really have a policy regarding what players should use despite the fact that helmet technology has advanced quite a bit in the last thirty years and there are several types of helmets that are better able to protect a person’s head.

    I suppose having refs come down on hits is cheaper then doing studies on helmet design, but the NFL should really put their money where their mouth is.

  10. “tjacks7 says: Dec 20, 2011 7:13 PM

    Look on the bright side, at least you made enough money to pay people to remember stuff for you if it does get worse.”

    The guy wasn’t drafted, and played four years. Yeah – I’m sure he has a room full of gold coins that he dives into at night for fun.

  11. It’s just too bad a neaderthal like James Harrison is allowed to walk the earth doing this to guys after boasting how he’ll knock them out of the game so the Steelers can have a victory.

  12. He is making a conclusion without any scientific basis.

    For one thing, memory loss is completely subjective – no one really knows if he’s forgetting things on purpose. It’s also a handy way to get attention for a washed up ex-player.

    Second, even if he is really having memory loss, we don’t know if concussions were the cause. It sounds liek he had a weak constitution to begin with. That would be like someone with, say, a heart-valve defect who plays football, his heart explodes, then blames the heart failure on football: yeah, teh stress of the game pushed his heart past its limits, but he never should have been out there.

  13. I am disappointed in some of these responses. Sure, a lot of jobs have inherent dangers but no one goes into it expecting those things to happen. Its extremely unfortunate, just respect the situation. Utecht is a good guy.

  14. Remember stories like this when you hear people complain that the NFL is “going soft”. Everyone loves the violent aspect of the NFL, but these brain-damaging blows to the head are a huge concern…

  15. Fix the helmets, Roger…

    Time to make the ProCap mandatory equipment, league wide.


  16. Football will never be “safe” no matter how guilty any of you feel for enjoying it.

  17. dasmol says:
    Dec 20, 2011 7:23 PM
    Yeah? And my industrial plumber brother has gnarled fingers.

    Kind of goes with the terrain, doesn’t it?

    These guys go into their profession knowing the risks, and if they don’t, they should have paid better attention in those free college classes they took.

    That said, I sincerely hope his condition only improves.

    52 67

    “…paid better attention in those free college classes they took.” The guy has memory loss…

  18. The cool thing is they are developing a “super memory pill” for Alzheimers. The crazy thing is the effect it’s having on mice. The mice on the drug are literally remembering pathways better than mice not on it, hence the “super memory”. So it would take a patient who is suffering from Alzheimers and potentially make their minds better than their pre-alzheimers state. Maybe it too can help dementia in the future.

    Imagine QB’s getting their hands on that. Playbook memorized in 1 week… Screw the off-season coach, I’m good, in fact why don’t we ever run anything on page 249.

  19. Two things:

    First, just because the players know the risks prior to signing up to be a professional football player doesn’t mean that all actions should not be taken to protect them. Many jobs have serious risks, way worse than football (i.e. miners, firefighters, even taxi drivers); however, people do what they need to do in order to put food on the table. There is also such programs as workers compensation, disability, etc. to protect Americans from lifelong struggles secondary to work hazards.

    Secondly, the problem will not be solved by using better helmets. Although it would help, a large percentage of concussions that occur in individuals with a concussion history are due directly to blows to the body. Generalized concussions can be just as severe as a direct hit to the head.

  20. I am sorry but he knew and players know the risks. People have got to stop making excuses for all the what ifs in the world. For goodness sake, what about the military, police and fire personel in the world who regret what transpired in there lives. Don’t we all wish we could all possible help redo something in our or someonelse’s life.

  21. I am sorry but he knew and players know the risks. People have got to stop making excuses for all the what ifs in the world. For goodness sake, what about the military, police and fire personel in the world who regret what transpired in there lives. Don’t we all wish we could all possible help redo something in our or someonelse’s life.
    A very common attitude but it does remove the “care of duty” that society and employers alike should have. There is a reason you are required to wear a seat belt in a car (it’s for your own safety) does that mean we should remove that law because well after all people know the chances they are taking… utter nonsense!!!

  22. I have to call some of you out on your moronic comments. For the person who said he’s associating brain injury with head trauma but has no proof (paraphrasing) A) I’m sure he’s seen a neurologist and B) He’s taken hits to the head with massive force. I’m no scientist but I’m sure he’s not just making this up.

    And everyday you walk out of the house, life is filled with inherent dangers but it’s ok to file a lawsuit when someone makes a mistake. He’s not even complaining. Someone asked him and he answered the question. So for the plumber analogy, if your plumber brother just so happened to have the roof fall in on him when he’s working then it must be considered an inherent danger from working inside a house and no one should care.

    Everyone knows it’s a violent sport so save the justification for why you think he should be quiet or has no excuse for something he’s not blaming anything/anyone for. Money doesn’t fix the long term affects on the body if there’s no cure. It just buys you a more comfortable bed.

  23. As a Colts fan, I’m sorry to hear this about Utecht. He was a solid blocker for the Colts, including a decent TE. I wish the very best for Ben and hope everything turns out well for him. My prayers go out to him and his family.

  24. Can’t make game safe. If you don’t want the risks do something else, play a different sport, get a real job. Don’t ruin the game we love with pussed out rules.

  25. I am 28, I still play SS, don’t get paid, have had several concussions, have memory loss. Wouldn’t change a thing. Other careers result in much more serious injuries for much less $$. If you sign for a minimum few hundred thousand then it is a risk you are choosing to take.

  26. No sympathy. He knew when he starting playing football that it was a high risk-high reward game. Could have chosen baseball or baskeball or studied and graduated with a marketable degree.

  27. Some of you are missing the point. He’s not asking for sympathy. He’s one of several ex-players trying to tell his story about head injury and memory loss so more people can learn about head injuries and concussions.

    To say that all players know what they are getting into is false. While they know there is an inherent risk, we as a society are learning more and more about the long term damage head injuries can cause. One of the best case examples is the link between PTSD and traumatic brain injury commonly seen in combat veterans.

    Good luck, Ben. I hope more people speak up like you.

  28. I’m 24 and I have significant memory loss. Concussions should be taken care of throughout life. I had 9 before I turned 18, playing football, baseball, and basketball. I could remember everything fine, before the 10th. One car wreck later and I rely on sticky notes and smart phones. I really don’t feel sorry for a guy who made a couple mil. It sucks, but I have no sympathy.

  29. So many of you here are missing the point. And it’s ridiculous that ANYONE should give a thumbs down on a comment reading, “Hope everything works out in the future.. best of luck to him and his family” and the like. That’s disgusting.

    Do concussions come with the territory? Yes. Did he know the risks and play anyway. Most likely. But does anyone deserve to go through what he’s going through now? No.

    Remove yourself from all of the articles about Harrison, and all of the new rules the NFL has implemented, and read this article for what it is – a guy telling his story (without complaining, by the way).

    We all face risks every day. You run the risk of burning your house down when you turn on the stove.. you run the risk of getting hit by a car when you go jogging down the street.. you run the risk of being bitten by a shark if you swim in the ocean… you run the risk of dying in the most horrible way possible when you get on a plane. Even if I had never heard your name before, if I read in the newspaper about your house burning down, your 3 month hospital visit, your leg being amputated, or your tragic death, I wouldn’t shrug my shoulders and say, “oh well.. they knew what they were getting into.”

  30. Feel bad for Ben. But football is a full contact sport and those who dont like it should not watch or play the game. You will never stop concussions. Period. Blows to the head can never be elimmated because of the hitting in profootball. Heads hit knees, the ground, other helmets, etc, etc. And this “leading with the helmet” is something from a fairy tale. Most people tackle using his shoulders, arms. The head is attached to the body midline of the shoulders. How can you NOT lead with the head? Or the head not be involved with the tackle. Uncle Rodger and some uneducated fans react to head tackles and now look at it as if the tackler had committed a crime. How silly. I agree consussions should be seen to as soon as possible and treated. But put things into proper perspective. You, the fan, want hitting in football, but you dont want injurys. May I suggest fotbol.

  31. I was there in Georgetown the day in training camp when Utecht went down for the last time. It wasn’t even a particularly hard hit or even a real collision per se, but merely a routine semi-speed drill where he just engaged as a blocker when he suddenly just collapsed onto his face holding his head.

    He literally did not move a muscle & just lay there frozen holding his head for up to 10 minutes until they strapped him to the board & the ambulance carried him away so that you had to wonder if he was paralyzed.

    Utecht was very rangy/spindly for a TE anyway & you have to wonder whether he had a particular inherent vulnerability to head/brain trauma.

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