Worth it?

Concussions are a controversial topic, especially among football players. With new research on the effects concussions have on the brain, it begs the question, is it worth it?

By Aaron Herbst, reporter

As a young boy, Ben Utecht dreamed of playing in the NFL and winning the Super Bowl. He did. But, Utecht didn’t expect his dreams to come true at a cost. He suffered from multiple concussions and was diagnosed with concussion-related memory issues. The cost of Utecht’s dreams was his brain, and it seems there are no returns on his purchase.

Nowadays, if someone wants to play football at any level, the proper tools are available and professionals are ready for consultation. It seems as if the decision to stop playing football depends on if a player has sustained a serious brain injury that could affect both the player and their family.

“I have always said that if I could go back and do it all over again, that I would still play football, but I would play it differently…”

Utecht, a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology, a board member of the American Brain Foundation, a prominent leadership and motivational speaker, and an author, had this to say on if he thought playing football was worth the risk. “That is such a personal question and a subjective issue especially when it comes to making a decision as an adult,” said Utecht. “I have always said that if I could go back and do it all over again, that I would still play football, but I would play it differently and current concussion education may have had an effect on how long I chose to play.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Utecht

In a recent interview with ESPN, Joe Thomas, a left tackle for the Cleveland Browns, said that he has already started to see effects of repeated blows to the head from playing football. He said that he has had memory loss, but thinks that most of the damage has already been done to his brain. He summarized by saying that he made his decision to provide for his family by playing professional football, and that all he can do at this point is try to minimize the effects of the repeated hits to the head and the damage that may occur later in his life.

Chris Borland, a former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, retired from his playing career over fear of head injuries. He started a new trend in the NFL of young players retiring early out of fear for their health later in life. He decided that the risks of playing outweighed the benefits of being a professional athlete.

Concussions don’t only happen in professional football; but they are common in college and high school football as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported concussions have risen 200 percent among teens ages 14 to 19 in the last decade. High school football accounts for 47 percent of all reported sports concussions, with 33 percent of concussions occurring during practice. There are varying opinions as to whether or not playing football is worth the possible consequences.

“I can say for me personally that it was not worth it.”

Jake Marsh, the starting quarterback of the Bethel football team and Elijah Bervik, a tight end for the Royals, think that playing football is worth the risks of possible brain trauma. Marsh said, “I think it’s worth it, but I’d say that’s biased because I’ve never dealt with any head related injuries so I don’t want to speak on behalf of people that do suffer.”

Elijah Bervik working out in the off-season. | Photo by Aaron Herbst

Jacob Buchl, a former high school football player, had a different view. “Coming from a person who loved football and was being recruited to play college football and also as a person who sustained life-changing concussions that I still have not recovered from, I can say for me personally that it was not worth it,” said Buchl.

Another issue that is being addressed is approachability of coaches. Some studies have estimated that over 50 percent of concussions go undiagnosed, in large part due to athletes failing to report symptoms, according to the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

Oftentimes people who have sustained a series of concussions or other brain injuries while playing football think that it needs to be played in a different way, one that is safer for all parties involved. Many athletes who haven’t sustained an head injuries seem to think that football should continue the way it is. What both groups seem to agree on is football teaches kids life lessons, and teaches young people how to work with others in a team environment that is hard to duplicate anywhere else. “Football is the greatest team sport ever played,” said Jeff Bernards, a football coach at Kasson-Mantorville High School.

“My biggest fear is that I won’t remember walking my beautiful daughters down the aisle.”

Utecht’s playing days may be behind him, but the scars of battle are ever-present. His mind is still sharp, but he often feels unsure and scared of when all of the hits to his head from countless games and grueling two-a-day’s will catch up to him, and when his memory will fade away completely.

“My biggest fear is that I won’t remember walking my beautiful daughters down the aisle,” said Utecht.

He hopes his testimony will make players think twice before they strap on a helmet.