After Battling Addiction, This Former NFL Player Is Looking to Give BackNone By Matt Alesevich
Montee Ball lived the dream of most, if not all, young American athletes. In April 2013, the small-town Missouri native was drafted by his favorite childhood team, the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
The surreal moment followed a surreal college football career at Wisconsin. During his breakout junior year in 2011, Ball broke or tied three NCAA records, including most touchdowns in a season, and was a finalist for the nation’s top individual honor, the Heisman Trophy.
As wins and accolades piled up, however, so did late nights out and, subsequently, regrets. Like both his grandfather and his father, Ball began struggling with alcohol abuse. After just two lackluster years in Denver, plagued by his addiction, Ball was released before the start of the 2015 season. Rock bottom followed in 2016 when the former star faced three arrests—two for domestic violence and another for violating bail.
The same year, Ball had a son, and the child’s birth foreshadowed Ball’s rebirth. Now a year sober, Ball is looking to be a game changer off the gridiron. The 26-year-old is currently finishing his degree at Wisconsin, volunteering at a community health clinic, and penning a book about the lineage of addiction. (In fact, research has shown that writing about the good that came out of a bad experience can have beneficial psychological effects, like reduced stress and long-term improvements in mood.)
As Ball looks forward to another year of service and sobriety, we caught up with him to talk addiction and acceptance, as well as his past and future.
How do you feel when looking back on your career?
To be completely honest, I feel pride. I’m very content with how my career went. It ended with an unfortunate situation for myself, but I look on the bright side. I'd wanted to be a running back for the Denver Broncos since I was eight, and that’s what I accomplished.
What was your relationship with alcohol growing up?
I never cared for alcohol in high school. I promised my family that I would get a scholarship [to play football]. Once I started playing well [at Wisconsin], I started to lose sight of who I was and where I came from. I let all the fame get to my head, and it kicked me in the butt later down the road.
Did more success correlate with more drinking?
It absolutely correlated. With big wins and great performances came parties and being the life of the party. I was always the life of the party—but in hindsight, this is not a good thing. Once times got difficult in the NFL, [drinking] is what I fell back on.
What did alcohol provide an escape from?
There was so much denial and depression and social anxiety. It was a socia