I had high hopes for Montee Ball.
Much like every other Denver Broncos fan, I was enamored by his vision and patience as a runner. Sadly, that potential went unfulfilled. And as the years have gone by, his flashes of brilliance on the field have been overshadowed by his multiple offenses off of it. I never quite understood what the hell happened, but during a recent interview on Heart of the Matter, a production from Partnership to End Addiction, it appears that inside linebackers weren’t the only thing the former Wisconsin star was running from.
In 2016, a domestic violence charge landed Ball behind bars. So while the rest of us watched the Broncos dismantle the Panthers during Super Bowl 50, Ball—who has since admitted to getting drunk four times a week as a Bronco—watched his former teammates make history from a jail cell.
“So, when I was watching [the Denver Broncos] win the Super Bowl from jail. To put into words how I felt is difficult, because I know that I did it to myself,” he said. “I was telling myself there, ‘If I would have corrected myself, if I would’ve gotten the help that I know that I needed, I most definitely would be up there hoisting that trophy, in some fashion or another.’”
He continued, “I was in a cell with about six other people and three of them were telling me, because I had my back turned from the television, once they turned it on. And they were going off on the mouth, about how that’s supposed to be me up there, playing. I’m supposed to be a role model to all of the Black and Brown kids, who were in the poverty-stricken areas, of achieving their dreams, showing them how it’s done.”
He then went on to discuss his efforts to address addiction within the Black community and some of the socio-economic hurdles we face in receiving treatment.
“I think there’s a lack of education with insurance, healthcare, understanding how to sign up for that stuff,” he said. “Understanding how much your insurance will cover stuff like that. So it’s a very thick and broad barrier that we’re trying to obviously break through.”
He also pointed to the disparities in how addictions are construed and addressed.
“A lot of Black and Brown people, at least up this way, are upset. They’re upset about the amount of attention that white people are getting right now for the opioid crisis,” he said. “And then comparing that to the attention that we got with the crack epidemic. Ours was prison; 10 years, 20 years. Disenfranchising these Black and Brown communities. But nowadays it’s, ‘Oh, it’s mental health.’ It’s, ‘Let’s give him or her the help that she needs.’ When we didn’t receive that same treatment.”
In reflecting on his own career, he attributed his alcoholism at that time in part to a hypermasculine locker room culture.
“Now, today, whenever I speak to certain groups—if I’m speaking to the athletic program, if I’m speaking to the football team, I really love to talk a lot about toxic masculinity and how these thrive in locker rooms,” he said. “And that’s the environment that I was around in Denver. [...] There’s no way that no other player saw as much as I was drinking or the excessive amount that I was consuming. I know for a fact they saw that, but you got a pat on the back for it.”
Since leaving football behind, Ball has dedicated himself to his recovery and his commitment to eliminating obstacles that prevent Black and Brown folks from access to mental health and substance abuse services.
You can listen to this episode of Heart of the Matter on your podcast platform of choice.