Widmer said after numerous concussions he fears he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. He has depression and memory problems, suffers from mood swings and seeks to isolate himself. Recently, he said, his thumb has started twitching.
"I'm 49 years old, depressed to the Nth degree but have a lot of money, and some people might say it's still worth it. I just tell them to watch what they wish for," Widmer told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "If someone could've explained all of this to me when I was 14, I would've given it all back in a heartbeat. I would've wished for something else."
The Bozeman native said he couldn't in good conscience be a part of Saturday's banquet in Billings celebrating a sport that caused great suffering among his friends and that he believes endangers children.
"When I refused entry I had to give an explanation, and my explanation is concussion," Widmer told Lee Newspapers of Montana .
But he didn't want to state his reasons during the ceremony that inducted eight other members to the Montana hall, including former Detroit Lions tight end Casey FitzSimmons and former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.
The banquet also honored the Petrino coaching tree that began with former Carroll College football coach Bob Petrino and includes his sons -- Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and Idaho coach Paul Petrino. It also honored coaches who once played for Bob Petrino, a group that includes Denver Broncos special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon.
"I don't want to make some political statement right in the middle of their party and take advantage of some very nice people," said Widmer, who was a plaintiff in the NFL concussion lawsuit.
But he said he also couldn't stay silent anymore after reading a recent news story about a lawsuit filed by the family of a 16-year-old Belt High School student who suffered a concussion in a 2014 game and collapsed after playing the next weekend, leaving him nearly paralyzed and unable to speak.
"That was the moment that made me understand," Widmer said. He had taken a planned trip to Australia thinking he'd "just escape and walk away from everything. I didn't want the drama.
"But when I got over there I just got this overwhelming guilt, anxiety and was not sleeping," he said. "Every day I was waking up thinking about this."
So he came back to Montana to explain himself and to urge parents to delay their children's participation in tackle football, maybe even until their senior year in high school. He argued that letting children in fifth through eighth grade participate in tackle football equates to child endangerment.
"If we can just have parents take another look at these kids and the potential dangers for the most prized possessions in their life, maybe they could put that off for a few years," he said.
Widmer played with the Giants from 1992 to 1999, finishing with 271 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four interceptions. He was a standout defensive lineman at Montana State from 1987-91.