Former Bengals tight end won his injury grievance case against the Bengals on Wednesday and in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Utecht said he believes his victory isn't just going to benefit him, but all professional football players.
"The important thing is it is a decision for all players," Utecht told The Enquirer in a phone interview. "It gives a standard that teams have to fulfill and for anyone that suffers a brain injury and a standard to be rehabilitated. That's something we have been fighting for our players for 3-4 years now."
Brain injuries have been a hot topic in the NFL lately. As players become stronger and faster the hits are more and more ferocious and more and more players are getting concussions. Utecht suffered five concussions before his NFL career came to an end before the 2009 season and now he struggles at times explaining things and has lost certain memories.
"There are some times I feel like I'm struggling through quicksand. I try to explain something or formulate a response and I have a difficult time getting information I want to say," he said. "From outside those are times my wife can tell you that something isn't right.
"I forget past memories and experiences that I should remember. My best friend will talk about his wedding and I don't remember that I was a groomsman and sang. Amnesia is the spookiest thing. To literally have minutes extracted. ... I pray that it doesn't get worse."
The deciding factor in Utecht's case was the fact that the Bengals didn't put the tight end through the maximum amount of testing before he was placed on injured reserve and eventually released. His case could provide the ground work for what teams need to do before letting players with concussions go or putting them back on the field.
"The reason for the win was that I wasn't put through the maximum level of rehabilitation like the maximum amount of treadmill work," Utecht said. "Teams are going to have to put players with a brain injury through the fullness of their testing but the league and union have to go and decide what is the exact return to play protocol."
The Bengals released the following statement following the decision:
"Ben was placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Aug. 31, ending any chance for him to play for us in 2009, so there was never a question of the Club attempting to get him ‘cleared to play.' He was not released until Nov. 17, so he was carried on the payroll for more than three months after the injury, and he was then released, on the advice of an independent neurologist that the timing was proper. Ben received excellent medical care throughout the process."
Utecht has gone on to have a successful recording career and has a book and another album due for release later in 2013.