MOUNT LAUREL, NJ (July 12, 2021) – One of football’s defensive legends is going on the offensive to protect fans and former players from life-shortening health risks of obesity and heart disease.

Dick Butkus, who inspired generations on his way to becoming the nation’s most revered defender, will serve as Player Advisor for the NFL Alumni Wellness Challenge which helps former professional football players pursue improvements to their personal health and wellness.

“I’m fully supportive of the NFL Alumni’s efforts to focus on players’ health and wellness and want to do my part to support this program. We all loved the game of football but there was no playbook for how we should eat, train and live after we played our last down,” said Butkus, the former Chicago Bears linebacker.

The NFL Alumni Wellness Challenge is a six-month program that provides comprehensive health analysis along with diet and lifestyle modification under the supervision of a medical team including television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz as medical advisor. The program supports former NFL players through a “Huddle Up: Let’s Talk Obesity” initiative supported by Novo Nordisk. About 40 percent of retired players suffer from excess weight and related health factors.

Butkus Embraces Personal Health

Despite becoming involved in strength training after knee injuries ended his football career, Butkus paid little attention to managing his overall health. In 2001, at age 58 and despite having no symptoms, he agreed to a routine cardiovascular screening that revealed he was in imminent danger of a heart attack. He had quintuple bypass surgery the following day. Afterward, Butkus redoubled his commitment to exercise, nutrition and a healthier lifestyle while pursuing regular screenings and checkups.

“That screening took just 10 minutes but has given me another 20 years already. It’s payback time. I want to see all NFL athletes, and all football fans, get timely screenings so they too can live a long and healthy life.”

Cardiovascular disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, with known risk factors that can be improved through lifestyle modification. One example is obesity where excess weight places increased stress on the operational function of the heart.

The clinic where Butkus was screened has been named the Dick Butkus Heart and Vascular Screening Center, which is affiliated with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. The clinic has since completed more than 40,000 cardiovascular scans, providing reassurance to some and early warnings to others. Butkus seeks to partner with hospitals and clinical networks across every major NFL city through a Butkus Takes Heart initiative focusing on early assessment and lifestyle modification.

“We’re delighted to have the support of football legend Dick Butkus but we’re even more impressed that he is willing to share his personal story with NFL alumni and fans alike,” said Bart Oates, NFL Alumni President. “Our efforts have similar messages that now is the time to take responsibility for one’s own health and wellness.”

Butkus’ advice today is as blunt as his high-impact tackles: “Your gameclock is ticking, whether you’re a former pro or a fan. Get off the couch, into the clinic, and on the path to a healthier life. You won’t regret it.”

Butkus especially cherishes being involved in the lives of five grandchildren with his wife Helen, and in charitable endeavors after a post-football career in business and entertainment.

NFL Alumni Association
The NFL Alumni Association was founded in 1967 and is the oldest and most recognizable national organization of retired athletes. NFL Alumni consists of former players, coaches, executives, spouses, cheerleaders and associate members. NFL Alumni’s dual mission is “Caring for Kids” by giving back to local youth charities through 39 chapters, and “Caring for Our Own” to serve members and their families. Alumni are offered a diverse package of wellness, business, career and legal services to help members be healthy, productive and connected. More information is at

Butkus Foundation
The Butkus Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advances health and wellness through initiatives associated with football legend Dick Butkus. The Foundation presents the Butkus Award® to linebackers at three levels, champions cardiovascular wellness through the Butkus Takes Heart™ initiative, encourages teen athletes to avoid performance-enhancing substances through the I Play Clean® program and celebrates youth sports coaches and volunteers. More information is at