Madison - Former Wisconsin football star Montee Ball has been on a physical and emotional roller coaster since leaving college. The 2012 Doak Walker Award winner was a second round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2013.
Leg injuries cut his Broncos career short, and he was released after his second season in Denver. Ball was signed to the Patriots practice squad in 2016, but he never made the active roster. He was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 60 days in jail after a domestic incident at a Madison hotel. Ball said he'd been struggling with his mental health since his college days, and things didn't get better when he went to the NFL.
"I started to really feel isolated out there in Colorado. I kinda didn't have anybody to speak to. The same situation I had here. Just suffering from depression. From there I just went down hill," Ball said. "I was able to get therapy, own up to my mistake and let the world know that I'm human. I'm not minimizing what I've done, but from here forward I gotta make changes."
Ball says the biggest step he took was admitting that he needed help.
"The biggest step is understanding what you need help in, and saying that 'I need help.' That's why I wanted to go this route and tell people it's okay if there's something you're struggling with. It's fine. Reach out to somebody and receive the help that you need."
Now Ball is bringing his message back to the UW. He started the Montee Ball Fund to help raise money for mental health support services on campus. The first major fundraising event is the "Swing Fore Recovery" golf outing on June 15th. More than twenty former Badger stars have committed to help the cause.
Chris Borland was a standout linebacker for the Badgers from 2009-'13. He retired after one NFL season despite leading the San Francisco 49ers in tackles. Borland said he walked away from the game because of the possible side effects of head injuries. He works with athletes and veterans through the After The Impact Fund, and he too is joining Montee's fight against unseen injuries.
"There's a coachism about you're never as good or bad as they say you are. Knowing him personally and then reading about his struggles and also the things he's championed- he's a great person behind all of that. It's great to see him at a peak now in a way that he can sustain," Borland said. "I've worked in mental health before. It is a challenging thing. To have someone- a football player- and a man of Montee's stature to speak out about it is going to help a lot of people."
Ball hopes his efforts and the collective help of his former Badgers will help current and future athletes get the help they need with regard to mental health.
"I was given the platform of football to speak on something greater than myself. I wanted to show people that once you hit rock bottom there's only one way to go. And I hope that I'm making that example."
For more information on the "Swing Fore Recovery" golf outing fundraiser and the Montee Ball Fund visit: www.monteeball28.com