Former NFL Player Marques Ogden Opens Up About Personal Bankruptcy, Depression and Alcoholism
In 2013, after a five year career in the NFL that netted him millions of dollars, Marques Ogden declared personal bankruptcy. But Marques Ogden’s story is a very different one from the large number of former NFL players who have faced financial stress due to living an inflated, lavish lifestyle or through poor investment choices.
With a background in finance and a strict budget maintained by his clear sense of frugality, by all measures, Ogden did everything right. Despite this, it only took one bad business deal for Ogden to join the long list of former professional athletes facing financial ruin, and in the process, an ensuing battle with mental health that nearly cost him his life.
Ogden recently spoke at length with Disability Solutions’ Hef Matthews about his personal struggles with mental health following bankruptcy, as well as his new found purpose helping others find success and meaning in both business and life.
Hef Matthews: Many people out there can only dream of becoming a professional athlete. Many others may have the talent but aren’t willing to put in the work necessary to become an elite level athlete capable of competing professionally. For you, I’m sure you put an incredible amount of work at a young age to compete at the highest level, but was your life goal always to become a professional football player, or did you have other aspirations?
Marques Ogden: No, my life goal was to work on Wall Street for Merrill Lynch. My father got his degree from Howard University in Economics and his Masters from The University of Maryland in Economics. I grew up around a great parental influence where we talked about finance, we talked about responsibility and we talked about manhood. Sports was never really brought up in the conversation as something we had to do. My brother and I didn't even play football until he got to middle school and I got to high school. So really, for us it was about just becoming men, and education was always at the forefront. So no, I actually did not want to play football as a professional athlete until right before my last year of college. They told me I could be drafted, so then I started taking it more seriously at that time. But before then, absolutely not. I was not looking to be a professional athlete.
Hef Matthews: You clearly found success with football, going on to play for five seasons in the NFL, but for those of our readers who may not know, tell us a little bit about your experience and story off the field and the resulting financial and personal challenges you faced. You started a construction company while you were still a player in the NFL, correct?
Marques Ogden: Right. I started (the construction company) part-time while I was playing, and then did it full-time after I retired. We became the largest minority contractor in the area of site-work in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland for two years. But at the same time, I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues. I was depressed and my father passed away suddenly, which was a shock. I had alcohol problems. Even though I liked my job as a business owner, I didn't love it because I still wanted to play in the NFL. But I wasn't able to do that because I was just not in a physical state to do so.
I dealt with a lot of problems throughout building my business – fighting a lot of demons. Then, I ended up losing my company in 2013 when I went bankrupt from a really bad business decision. But all through starting the business, growing the business, all of that, I dealt with a lot of mental health issues throughout that time.
Hef Matthews: Did the mental health issues, your depression, did those come up while you were still a player in the NFL or afterwards? At what point did you realize you were struggling with depression and needed help?
Marques Ogden: Yeah, it wasn't during my NFL career. Oh, actually no, my last year playing football with the Titans, I struggled with some depression when I lost my father. And then alcoholism really came into the picture after I got released because I had a back injury and I just wasn't cutting it. I just couldn't perform at a high level anymore because I was just so downtrodden about my father, and I was depressed, and all that, and I just wasn't doing what I had to do to really sustain a higher caliber (in the NFL). I would say my depression really started with my father's death, and then with all the other things, alcoholism, all the pain addiction, the business, all that, it got much worse after that.
Hef Matthews: Right, and well, looking at that now, fast-forwarding five years, you've obviously been able to turn a corner, shift gears, and have really put some things together, with your public speaking and everything else you're doing. Looking at the past few years, what support systems or people were there to help you?
Marques Ogden: Well, first of all it's my wife for sure. My wife has been with me since 2013 when I was going through a bankruptcy, going through all the type of problems that I had financially and mentally. So definitely her. And then also, the National Football League; more specifically the NFL Player Care Foundation and the NFL Gene Upshaw Trust Fund. They were the shining star that helped me get myself back on track and help me get my life in order. They helped pay a few bills for me when I was at the down point of my life, when I was just down and out, after losing everything. They got me some help, they got me to seek some counseling, which they paid for, which was fantastic.
And they still offer that service to any player that's retired. They'll pay for counseling for you and your spouse, or just you in general – if you're having depression issues, or you're having anxiety issues or you're just having problems coping with adjusting. For sure my wife, number one, but then, of course, the NFL Player Care Foundation, and NFL Trust, or the Gene Upshaw Trust Assistance Fund, those were my support people that helped me get through what I was going through in that really dark time.
Hef Matthews: Looking at those resources, which sound great on the NFL's part that they have those, do you feel that there are players out there, post-career or maybe ones that are dealing with these issues actively in their career, that aren't taking advantage of the resources available, maybe just for fear of not wanting to disclose their issues with mental health?
Marques Ogden: Absolutely. They're afraid and embarrassed that they have the issues. And it's unfortunate because nobody's perfect, everybody's got problems. I feel if more players would be accepting that they're human and that problems arise for everybody, they can get some help and they can address the issues that they have – mental health issues, or depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, anything like that that they're dealing with. But the player has to take full accountability and admit there's a problem, and then get some help.
Hef Matthews: So how do you start that conversation about mental health with players? It’s one thing for them to come to that self-realization, but is there anything else that others can do to really create that conversation?
Marques Ogden: Well, the NFL's trying. They're holding symposiums. They're holding panels. I actually spoke at a panel that was hosted by MHA, Mental Health America, in Virginia about two years ago, which was fantastic; talking about players who were facing suicidal thoughts, depression, pain addiction, and all that. I feel as more players are seeing other players openly talk about it, it's going to start to create a windfall and a change. But, more players have to get involved in the panels and the conferences, and start admitting that they've got some issues, and then start to get some help.
Hef Matthews: Absolutely. Okay, building on the conversation around mental health in pro sports, we've seen a lot more (discussion) over the last couple of years, where well-known athletes are coming out and talking about their struggles - Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Dwayne Johnson just recently, Brandon Marshall and even Olympians like Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. They’re coming out and they're starting this conversation, they're talking about it publicly. Do you believe that this is the start of a meaningful conversation and attitude shift towards helping improve mental health? Or do you think we still have a longer road to go?
Marques Ogden: I mean, no, I think people like that, Brandon Marshall, The Rock, all these big people are going to start talking about it, then other people in society are going to start saying, "Hey, I'm okay to admit that I've got problems and I'm okay to admit that I need help." I was just looking at something about The Rock, and you brought up a great point. He talks about, it's really important for us to understand that we are human beings, and as human beings we have errors and faults. But you can't look at your faults as a reason to keep staying down on yourself. If you have a problem that needs medical help, or therapy, whatever it is, you have to get into it early. I mean, what was the guy who just committed suicide? The guy from CNN?
Hef Matthews: Anthony Bourdain, yeah, that was shocking, and Kate Spade last week as well.
Marques Ogden: Yeah, Kate Spade. I mean, it doesn't matter how much money you have, it doesn't matter how much fame you have, it doesn't matter how much people like you – it just doesn't matter. If you have a problem and you don't go to get the help, it doesn't matter. Money is not going to solve your issues.
Hef Matthews: Right, I agree whole-heartedly. That's very well-said. Outside of professional sports, what advice would you give to companies and employers on how to support an employee who may be dealing with mental illness? And really, I think even more so than that, how do you create that workplace culture that makes employees feel comfortable about opening up on these topics in the first place?
Marques Ogden: You should have in your policies and procedures, that if someone on your staff is having mental health issues, or problems that they can't deal with on their own, that they can come to their boss, the next person up or go to some type of department, human resources. You should really have it where your employees can get help like counseling, and have that be covered by the company's insurance. That doesn't cost much at all. The NFL does it for all their former players, why can't organizations have it in their insurance and in their policies, and their coverage, if an employee's having a problem with mental health, they can go and get the counseling for free? I think a lot of people sometimes are scared because they one, don't want to admit it, and two, they feel they can't afford it. I think that if a company's insurance as a whole is picking up the bill, you'll have a lot more people that are dealing with stuff who will come forward to get that help.
Hef Matthews: Absolutely. Going back to some of your own experiences, what would you say are some personal practices or resources that you use daily, even still today, to stay positive and on that right path, that might help others as well?
Marques Ogden: I will say this, focus on building momentum. Get the small wins daily. Small wins turn into medium wins, medium wins turn into big wins, which turns into winning the game, or turns into winning at life. Too many times people set these huge goals like, "I want to be a billionaire," or, "I want to own a plane." They forget, "Okay, how about I just go ahead and earn $500 this week? How about this week I earn two grand?" Start to set those daily goals, small goals that you can win at. When you start winning it builds momentum, when you build momentum, it starts to change and shift your mindset. I tell people all the time as a keynote speaker or in professional development, focus on getting the small wins daily.
Hef Matthews: I love that advice. That's interesting too, I actually read something similar the other day. Are you familiar with, he's a public speaker, Tim Ferriss? Well-known in some of the marketing circles, he wrote a book around 10 or 15 years ago, “The 4-Hour Workweek”. But on his blog he wrote an essay and it was on practical thoughts surrounding suicide, and that was one of the big messages that he talked about was just setting those daily goals and getting those wins, "If I get this done today I'll be satisfied with today." It's just a way to kind of get through these days, and you can build momentum with that and just kind of get out of that funk.
Marques Ogden: Absolutely. I keep looking at how everybody's all like, "Oh, I want to accomplish this, I want to accomplish that." Well that's great, but that'd be like me saying, "I want to be Tony Robbins tomorrow." I mean, really? That's just not realistic. How about I be Marques today, and tomorrow, and how do I build towards those wins? How do I get from A, to B, to C, not from A to Z? And get frustrated when it doesn't happen because I set too big of goals and I put too much pressure on myself, which leads to depression, anxiety, all this negativity, because we put too much pressure on ourselves when we don't set realistic goals.
Hef Matthews: I’m going to shift gears again: When we're working with employers, one of the things that we talk about when it comes to people with disabilities, and it doesn't matter if it's somebody with maybe a developmental disability, or somebody struggling with mental health, the thing we always talk about is the talent value of people with disabilities. Yes, there's a feel-good story to hire someone with a disability, and sure, it's good that an employer is hiring somebody with a disability. But at the end of the day they need to be able to do the job and they need to be able to contribute and help the employer as well. We always really try to put it back on the talent value.
One of the things that we see in our work is that people with disabilities, they have a unique perspective, they bring different approaches to problems, and they have a lot of resiliency as well. Looking at your own experience, how do you feel like your own challenges have maybe shaped your new career as a public speaker? Do you find that these experiences give you an advantage?
Marques Ogden: Oh absolutely, because for 30 straight months I didn't get one paid speaking gig, not one. So I had to show perseverance and resiliency. When I had depression, when I had alcoholism, I had to show perseverance and resiliency to get my butt off the couch. So it's the same thing, from where I was there as an alcoholic, to where I am now as a national keynote speaker. Having perseverance and resiliency to get off my butt, and having perseverance and resiliency to actually push forward when everybody kept telling me, "No," worked in my favor.
So yes, people that have gone through mental health issues that have gotten the help and have now figured out ways to deal with it, they have a lot of strategic advantages in the workplace that could be very helpful. Like perseverance, resiliency, the ability to not take things for granted, the ability to actually work as a team because they've gotten help and they've worked with a counselor or other people. Yes, absolutely, in my life I know it has helped me greatly, and in others I know it would help them out as well.
Hef Matthews: That's great and thank you. Okay, so moving forward in your work as a speaker, how do you want your voice to be heard? And really what impact are you looking to make when it comes to helping people navigate life in general or perhaps with those who might be currently struggling with mental illness?
Marques Ogden: If you're struggling with mental health issues, number one, just find someone that's in your inner circle and let them know what's going on. Start to develop a plan of action to get yourself some help. If you don't trust a lot of people, just start with that inner circle. That's how I did it, I went to the NFL and told them what was going on. They found me the right counselor and they found me the right program. Just start there, and then realize that once you start getting help it's going to take time, you have to be patient and persistent, and not give up on getting yourself the help you need. If you can start to employ that into your everyday life, you're going to be okay. But it's not embarrassing, or disgraceful, or even dishonorable to have a mental health issue. Everyone has something they deal with. You're actually a stronger person if you admit it and get the help to fix it.
Hef Matthews: Thank you. As we wrap up here, do you have any upcoming events, news, or parting thoughts that you'd like to share with our audience?
Marques Ogden: Yes, if anybody's looking for a keynote speaker, they can go to my website, www.MarquesOgden.com. They can also email my speaker manager, Mrs. Donna Buttice at email@example.com.
I talk about leadership, professional development, perseverance and resilience, grit, overcoming obstacles, and all of that ties into the mental health issues that I've overcome, that I got help for, that I'm not embarrassed to say I've had, or have gotten counseling help and professional help. Because at the end of the day, I'm a better person because I've done it, gone through it, and accomplished it. Again, if you're someone that's going through a problem, understand, everyone has a problem. You are a stronger person to admit it, get it fixed and move on with your life.