EDS NOTE: Ben Utecht was a standout tight end for the University of Minnesota who played in the NFL for six years, becoming a starter and winning a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. He retired in 2009 due to multiple concussions and memory loss. Utecht is now a national speaker, concussion advocate, and musician.
I knew Junior Seau. He was one of the truly great players I met on the field as a professional football player. I am glad his daughter Sydney will be allowed to speak at his induction into the Football Hall.
I can only speak as a father and former player who, like Junior, suffered multiple concussions and memory loss playing professional football; a game I love but gave up to save my brain. If my past concussions bring my life to an early end, I'd want any of my daughters to be welcomed to speak if I am ever to be remembered.
My wife and I just celebrated the birth of our fourth daughter. Surrounded by five beautiful women every day, I am completely outnumbered and overwhelmed by estrogen, and I love every minute of it. Being a father of all girls has elevated what it means to be a real man of virtue in today's world. It also reminds me every day of my greatest fear: that my daughters will someday lose their daddy to brain disease caused by my concussions playing professional football.
I had the honor of playing against Junior Seau as his magical career came to an end. His presence on the field was powerful and electric. I hope I never forget what it was like to play against a line-backing legend like Junior.
I am also haunted by what happened to him. At 34 years old I am already experiencing some of the same symptoms that Junior faced as a result of the brain injuries inflicted on him by the game. And, as a dad, my heart aches for his daughter Sydney because she, too, lived her dad's nightmare. She now gets the chance to honor Junior and the game of football by speaking at his induction and sharing whatever is in her heart about her dad.
What is more important, the brain, or a game? I have loved football ever since I was a young boy playing catch with my dad in the backyard. That love hasn't changed. But we must do everything we can to minimize the risk of brain injuries in football and other sports. The medical and long-term disability costs that arise from football-for-profit should be paid from the profits of college and professional football. Players should be insured so that they don't have to start lawsuits to recover for the consequences like Junior's family has had to do. Most important: We must spare no effort to do all things possible to minimize childhood brain injuries that arise in football and other sports.
It's time to stop censoring the truth and speak openly so that America can go forward in the game we love in a more humane way. I have experienced wealth, fame and glory on the field. My Super Bowl ring reminds me every day. I continue to support the game I love. But what I care most about is encourage all Americans not only to love the game; but also love the brain. I plan to devote myself to this cause as long as my brain permits.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL