Counting the Days While His Mind Slips Away

Ben recalls growing up in a loving home as a pastor’s kid (his father is a Methodist pastor and a vocal major). “Faith was a big part of who we were as a family,” says Ben.  “It was a way of life.”  Ben says his dad played football with him when he was four. When he was starting sixth grade, Ben’s family moved to Minnesota where he joined his first football team.  He played in high school and got accepted to U of M. Though he loved the game of football, Ben also harbored dreams of doing something with music.  In college, Ben sang the national anthem at a U of M hockey game where he met his future wife, Karyn.  (They married in 2006.)

As a tight end, Ben served as a receiver of the ball and also a blocker.  During one play, Ben experienced a helmet-to-helmet hit which knocked him out cold.  After he woke up, he felt groggy and disoriented.  His head pounded and his ears were ringing.  This was his first diagnosed concussion.  “I didn’t know much about concussions, including their symptoms, treatment, or long-term effects,” says Ben.  A concussion occurs when the brain collides with the skull.  If the impact is violent enough, the brain can be bruised which is referred to to as a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  A concussion is a mild form of TBI.  Players kept playing with concussions and weren’t considered injuries.  “That was the culture of football in regard to head injuries fifteen years ago,” says Ben.  “The headaches went away and I kept on playing…when I heard the trainer tell me I had suffered a concussion, I thought it was about as serious as a paper cut.”  

As a sophomore, Ben injured his ankle.  This was 4th injury since high school.  Ben got mad at God.  He had already been walking the fence spiritually but decided to jump down with both feet – on the other side.  The rest of the season, Ben got swept up in the party culture on campus.  One day, a trainer stopped Ben.  She asked, “Are you a Christian?”  Ben hesitated before saying yes. She told Ben that while praying with friends the night before, God told her to tell Ben that he wasn’t giving Him something.  “Do you know what that is?” she asked.  Before he could answer, Ben broke out in a cold sweat.  “A battle waged inside me between who I had once been and who I was now becoming,” says Ben.  When he got back to his room, Ben asked God if the message is for him.  After he prayed, Ben realized he had not completely given himself to the Lord.  When he was 10, he prayed with his mom and dad to have a relationship with God through Jesus.  “I wanted faith in my life, and I certainly wanted God to bless me,” says Ben.  Things didn’t get better immediately but he was on a better path. In his senior year, Ben developed a rare condition that caused inflammation in the joint of his pelvic bones.  Ben prayed.  “God, I don’t know what this is or how it’s going to turn out, but I surrender it to You.”

In 2004, Ben met Tony Dungy, coach for the Indianapolis Colts, at an Athletes in Action meeting.  Tony promised Ben if he didn’t get drafted that he would be the first person to call him.  Two months later, Ben’s name was never called on draft day, but the general manager of the Colts called to offer him a position on their roster.  He played with the Colts for five years where he won a Super Bowl ring and went on to play with the Cincinnati Bengals.  Ben, then 29, finally retired in 2009 after his fifth documented concussion.  It took eight months to get to a new normal and  he began to experience memory loss.  “When you realize your memory is your identity, it’s a wake up call,” says Ben. He started an intensive cognitive training program with a brain training company.  It’s designed to strengthen short and long-term memory.  “The brain is so amazing when you practice certain exercises, the brain makes new pathways,” he says.  “There’s hope that comes from the Lord.”  Today Ben promotes public understanding and awareness of neurologic disease.  He got involved with Christian music after meeting the Gaithers and Sandy Patti in Indianapolis. While playing in the NFL, Ben released four albums.  His fifth one will be out soon.  The title of his book is from a song he wrote for his wife and daughters.

Mentioned in the Video

Guest Info


Former NFL tight end; Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals

Author: Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away, Howard 2016

Audiobook Excerpt

University of Minnesota, Public Speaking


National Spokesman, American Academy of Neurology (AAN)

Awarded Ambassador Award, Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance

Board of Directors, American Brain Foundation

Received 2014 Public Leadership in Neurology Award, AAN


Wife: Karyn

4 daughters: Elleora, Katriel, Amy Joan and Haven


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