As a young boy growing up in the small town of Hastings, Minnesota, I always had big dreams. I loved to play football and pretend to win the Super Bowl. I also loved to sing and perform, hoping to draw and inspire large audiences. On February 4, 2007, one of my dreams came true. I was a starting tight end for the Indianapolis Colts, and on that day, we were victorious over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
I was a four-year starter at the University of Minnesota, and despite some setbacks due to injury, I worked my way into the NFL through talent and drive and by the grace of God. I was undrafted, but I signed with the Colts in 2004 and quickly became an integral part of Peyton Manning’s pass-heavy offense. I sustained five documented concussions during my NFL career, which led me to the decision to retire in 2009 in order to safeguard my health and future with my steadily growing family.
My football career, and the devastating concussions I endured from the game I still love, has led me to being an advocate for sports brain injury awareness. I speak openly about my ongoing neurocognitive issues, such as memory loss, in order to shed a personal light on one of the most-discussed injuries in sports today.
I’ve been honored to testify about my experiences with concussions and football at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2014 and as a part of an expert panel at the 2015 South by Southwest Sports festival in Austin, Texas on the topic of brain health and sports. I also have served as the national spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation and received the 2014 Public Leadership in Neurology Award from the American Academy of Neurology.
Although professional football is over for me, I continue to use my passions, talents, and life experiences to help others and make a positive change in the world. I’ve been blessed to become a sought-after keynote speaker for corporations, conventions, and non-profit events with my two speaking programs, The Champion’s Way, which is oriented around the leadership principles I learned under NFL Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, and The MVP Program, which is a motivational program based around my concussion story. Harnessing the powerful lessons I learned during my NFL career, having played alongside superstar quarterback Peyton Manning and for Coach Dungy, these programs illuminate dynamic ways to succeed in business and life.
I mentioned earlier that another dream of mine was music. Music still remains a passion for me, and I’ve had the privilege of performing all over the country and releasing four albums, with my fifth to be released this fall. My Christmas record was even nominated for a Dove Award in 2012. In 2015, I released a music video to YouTube for the song “You Will Always Be My Girls.” The song is a love letter to my wife Karyn and our four daughters, and the video’s impact has spread worldwide, with over 1.2 million views.
Alongside my speaking programs and my music ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to author a book, telling in honest detail my football story and journey with concussions. The title, Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away, is actually taken from a lyric in “You Will Always Be My Girls,” because the book is in many ways a continuation of the love letter that song has become. I co-authored the book with Mark Tabb, a New York Times best-selling author, and it is being published by Simon and Schuster, one of the largest publishers in the country. It is my desire that my vulnerability and honesty in the book will not only shed a light on the concussion problem faced by many athletes, but will also give hope to anyone who suffers from the effects of brain injury or brain disease.
For more information about my speaking programs or to preorder my book, which releases August 23, 2016, please visit my website at www.ben-utecht.com.