ST. CLOUD - Former NFL tight end and Super Bowl champion Ben Utecht spoke in St. Cloud on Tuesday to raise awareness on sports-related concussions.

Utecht was forced to retire from football in 2009 after suffering his fifth diagnosed concussion during a pre-season practice with the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It was a routine blocking drill and I took a unique hit under my mask on my jaw. I don't remember a whole lot until I was strapped in a gurney and taken to the hospital."

Since retiring, he has become an advocate for raising awareness about sports-related concussions and the need to support research for traumatic brain injuries. Utecht says he and many other football players often try to fight through concussion injuries, rather than tell their coaches and seek treatment.

"The [football] culture is one that has really tried to hide behind this masculine facade of having to play through injury."

Utecht spoke to a crowd of doctors, coaches and parents and CentraCare Health Plaza. He emphasized the importance of understanding the lifetime impact concussions have on athletes, saying he's already suffering from memory loss since he turned 30.

Utecht also stressed the need for parents and coaches to recognize signs and symptoms of sports related brain injuries.

"I know that I'm not a doctor-what I am qualified for is to share my expertise on being an athlete and pouring my experience into the lives of others. If that can make an impact on how they look at the importance of brain health issues, then I think we've done something good."

In April 2014 Utecht received the Public Leadership in Neurology award from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation. Utecht is a native Minnesotan and also four-year starter at the University of Minnesota.

 

Ben Utecht speaks to a crowd of medical professionals, coaches and parents on Tuesday morning in St. Cloud. (Dan DeBaun, WJON)