After five major concussions, NFL tight-end Ben Utecht of the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals is losing his memories. This is his powerful and emotional love letter to his wife and daughters—whom he someday may not recognize—and an inspiring message for all to live every moment fully. Ben Utecht has accumulated a vast treasure of memories: tossing a football in the yard with his father, meeting his wife, with whom he’d build a loving partnership and bring four beautiful daughters into the world, writing and performing music, catching touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and playing a Super Bowl Championship watched by ninety-three million people. But the game he has built his living on, the game he fell in love with as a child, is taking its toll in a devastating way. After at least five major concussions—and an untold number of micro-concussions—Ben suffered multiple mild traumatic brain injuries that have erased important memories. Knowing that his wife and daughters could someday be beyond his reach and desperate for them to understand how much he loves them, he recorded his memories for them to hold on to after his essential self is gone. Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away chronicles his remarkable journey from his early days throwing a football back and forth with his father to speaking about the long-term effects of concussions before Congress, and how his faith keeps him strong and grounded as he looks toward an uncertain future. Ben recounts the experiences that have shaped his life and imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way. Emotionally powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, Ben’s story will captivate and encourage you to make the most of every day and treasure all of your memories.
Ben Utecht spent six years in the NFL as tight end for the Indianapolis Colts as well as the Cincinnati Bengals. Between those NFL years and his four years of college football, he suffered no less than FIVE documented major concussions. In the years following his last NFL game in 2009, he began to suspect that he was losing precious memories. This wasn't just temporary amnesia -- moments of his life appeared to be irretrievably wiped from his memory. With this realization, Utecht quickly became an advocate for brain health and education, nabbing a spot on the board of the American Brain Foundation. He's even spoken before Congress on the matter.
Despite his efforts to learn all he can regarding what's going in his mind and to preserve what's left, Utecht fears for what his future may hold. With that in mind, he wrote Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away, what he calls "a love letter to my family" something tangible to capture his memories of the man he was in case his mind fails him. In these memories, readers are given an inside look at the questionable practices of the NFL regarding head trauma. Even within this text, several times Utecht admits that he had to refer to others to verify or remind him of what used to be some of his own memories. For instance, he discusses his experience with playing the Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2006... he has pictures of him with the Lombardi trophy but in his mind it's like it never happened.
I now understand that our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities -- our very sense of self -- comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn't last. Every moment quickly slips into the stream of short-term memory and journeys toward the ocean that is the long-term memory center of the brain. There our memories take root, shaping us, refining us, defining who we are. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved. We are living memories. Without memories we cease to be ourselves. In a very real way we cease to be.
Utecht takes us back to the very beginning: his early days of growing up a preacher's kid. Like many a young boy, Utecht was introduced to football by his father, through many hours of tackles & tosses in the yard, even taking Ben (at age 11) to watch his first NFL training camp. As he says, "That's what I loved about the game...Football meant time with my dad." Utecht grew up big for his age, so by the time he started his school years, coaches took notice of his size and football seemed a natural path to take, as it also meant pretty much immediate social acceptance within school hierarchy. It doesn't read as intentional, but it's almost like he was groomed for this as a career choice from the very beginning, being quietly guided by something on life's sidelines.
I was so excited to sign with the Colts and start my career, and yet, as a result of my career I cannot even remember how it started.
Almost immediately upon completing high school, Ben is offered a full ride football scholarship to University of Minnesota (which he accepts, naturally). Pretty much right out of college, he is signed to the Colts. By this time, Utecht's formidable size weighs in at 6'7", 250lbs. A reader may go into this book thinking they're in for pages full of descriptions of head trauma but dang, I was distracted by all the skeletal issues this guy was having over the years of his NFL career --- popped ribs, hip fractures, pelvic damage, separated shoulder, broken ankle.. that's not even all of it -- left me wondering if this guy was ever tested for some sort of skeletal disorder, bone deficiency, something?!
In one portion of the book, Utecht shares some entries from a journal he began to keep of symptoms he was noticing after head injuries, most excerpts focusing on 2009, his last year with the NFL... and it wasn't a planned retirement. There's a whole swirl of drama surrounding him being cut from the Bengals. He describes being "cut" while still on the IR (injured roster), which is technically not supposed to be allowed. A player is supposed to be cleared for play before they can be cut. Utecht comes to find out that the doctor who signed off on his being cleared wasn't even a medical doctor! Amazing how shady the NFL comes out in these memoirs I've been picking up lately!
Utecht's story is interesting, but not necessarily the most riveting stuff (though he does offer some comedic stories involving Peyton Manning). But I feel like in the case of CTE, it's important to get as many testimonies out there as possible if a true solution is ever to be found. In that respect, this remains an important read. It does have a heaaaavy Christian lean to it though, so just a heads up if that's not your thing. I don't mind it most times but some stuff he says here... even I was giving some of the pages some side eye.
If you've read other books on this subject, many of them are likely referenced here. Utecht cited League Of Denial many times and Bennet Omalu himself is blurbed on the back cover of this book. Utecht also covers some of the material that was discussed in Cindy Feasel's book, After The Cheering Stops (to clarify, he doesn't mention her book specifically, he just discusses similar topics).