Football is tough. It takes strength — the physical strength to compete and the mental strength to master your fear of violence and failure.
But the game gives back as much as it takes. It teaches tenacity, teamwork, respect and appreciation for a strenuous and healthy life.
I was made for football. No sport prepared me for the game of life better than football.
Football focused me. My job was to get better every play, every day. Through it all, I learned how to become a better person and teammate. I learned how to fight through adversity. My career and family life blossomed as I learned how to channel my competitive instinct.
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All of us are aware of CTE and, like most former players, I monitor my health very closely. My comprehensive neurology evaluation showed no symptoms of CTE or brain injury.
That’s not to say I don’t have other health issues. Like millions of other Americans, I have heart disease but I manage it and choose not to live in fear. I stay focused on maintaining my health and giving back. Football taught me that.
I think it’s smart to keep adjusting the game as we learn more. We haven’t lost anything by protecting defenseless players or benching players who fail a sideline concussion test.
We need to teach better tackling and better neck conditioning. We need to explore and welcome any medical and equipment innovations that protect players. And we need to do everything to rid the game of illegal performance-enhancing drugs that threaten the health of players at every level.
There are undeniable risks in playing football. But the benefits of football in transforming energetic youth into productive citizens cannot be overlooked.
Dick Butkus played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1972 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. The Butkus Foundation provides health and wellness programs.