By Tom Pelissero
USA TODAY Sports
Former defensive tackle Christian Ballard says there is no deep, dark secret about why he abruptly left the Minnesota Vikings during training camp. He’s not mentally or physically ill. He’s not in trouble.
In Ballard’s words, he just “wasn’t living right” – and an NFL career that saw him appear in every game over the past two seasons was part of the problem, not the solution.
“I wasn’t really having a good time playing football. It wasn’t fun for me. It wasn’t a blast for me,” Ballard told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, in his first interview since the Vikings put him on the reserve/left squad list Aug. 18.
“Making that much money – that was fun. But money is still a material thing. You can always make money. You can’t make that time that you lose with your friends and your loved ones. Time is something that you can never get back.”
The search for peace, however, hasn’t been entirely smooth.
On Thursday, police arrested Ballard and his wife, Victoria Hallenbeck, for domestic battery after an argument at their Lawrence, Kan. apartment. The district attorney declined to press charges because neither had any physical injury, and they were considered mutual aggressors. But Ballard spent 29 hours behind bars.
“I can always treat my wife better, treat my son better, be a better brother, be a better son,” Ballard said. “But I know right now from being out of the NFL that it’s a lot easier to focus on those things because I have time. I’m not wrapped up in this whole other lifestyle.
“I’m not saying that I left the NFL (and) now everything is just fine. It’s not. There’s still a lot of lot of things I’ve got to work on – obviously – as being a husband and a father.”
When he walked away, Ballard informed Vikings coach Leslie Frazier he was leaving, then moved back to Lawrence, his hometown. He married Hallenbeck at a courthouse on Aug. 30. He says he’s going to church again after a four-year absence.
He also says he’s spending more time with his son from a previous relationship, Reece, who turns 3 in December. He’s working on his art and music portfolios in hopes of pursing graduate school once he completes the 15 hours needed toward his undergrad art degree next semester.
Still only 24, Ballard continues to work out every day and hasn’t ruled out a return to the NFL. But when he speaks about his career, he always brings up the money that made him hold on as long as he did – a $407,552 signing bonus on his rookie deal as a fourth-round draft pick from Iowa, plus $840,000 in salary over the past two years.
“I couldn’t sit there and lie to myself for another two years, doing something that wasn’t what I want to do,” Ballard said.
A product of a musical family – his late uncle, Hank Ballard, wrote and recorded “The Twist” before Chubby Checker’s version made it a hit – Ballard plays the cello and keyboard and is learning the bass guitar. His art ranges from drawings to oil pastels.
His mother, Denise Ballard, said she didn’t want to speak to her son’s reasons for leaving the NFL, though it didn’t surprise her that he decided to try “to live a normal life,” as she put it.
“Christian is Christian and he walks to his own beat. Always has,” Denise Ballard said. “I know there’s not a ton of football players out there that play the cello. He looks at life from a very different perspective.”
If Ballard ever decides to resume his NFL career, the Vikings own his rights for another two years. But he felt the game, the money and lifestyle consumed him once before. The decision to walk away wasn’t made on a whim. It’s something that had weighed on Ballard’s mind, along with the sense his true calling was elsewhere.
“It made me selfish. It made me complacent. I just thought that I was better than everyone,” Ballard said. “Don’t get me wrong – there are tons of people who play in the NFL and are strong believers in the Lord and they have a great lifestyle. But for me, it wasn’t really working out.
“I’m not sitting here saying I’m done forever. I’ve just got to reevaluate what I really want to do with my life and go from there.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football