Joe Namath: 'I'd probably be dead by now if I hadn't stopped drinking'
Joe Namath released his first autobiography in 50 years on Tuesday, “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters,” and in it the legendary Hall of Fame quarterback opens up about his life: getting famous in his early 20s, his victory in Super Bowl III, and, most poignantly, his years of alcohol abuse.
In the book, which ESPN got an early look at, Namath discusses his excessive drinking. While it didn’t become a major problem until he retired, the seeds were planted in his early playing days with the New York Jets. He would routinely stay out until the wee small hours the morning, drinking and partying with women. From the book, via ESPN:
"I was in my early 20s when this fame hit, living in one of the sexiest cities in the world. So it felt natural to turn toward it and not shy away. I enjoyed the company of ladies and, man, were there a lot of places servicing the singles crowd."
It was in retirement that Namath nearly drank himself to death. Eventually his then-wife asked him to go to therapy, which he did. But that didn’t stop the drinking, either. In the book, he said he’d stop and buy a pint of vodka on the way home from the sessions. The couple divorced in 2000.
Namath also described the incident that forced him to take a long, hard look at his life and get help for his drinking problem. It was the infamous sideline interview with ESPN’s Suzy Kolber in 2003. Namath admitted to being drunk during the interview, which led him to tell Kolber that he wanted to kiss her while live on the air.
"I saw it as a blessing in disguise. ... I had embarrassed my friends and family and could not escape that feeling. I haven't had a drink since.
"That shame is where I found my strength to deal with the addiction. With the help of my recovery, I learned that I had used my divorce as an excuse to go back to drinking. That knowledge made me a stronger individual."
In the book, Namath revealed that a voice in his head would tell him to drink. To help him fight that voice, he named it Slick.
"Every now and then Slick whispers, but having a name for him makes me listen to him differently. And, health-wise, I'd probably be dead by now if I hadn't stopped drinking."
After Namath quit alcohol, he was able to look back at what he’d done during those years and gain some clarity about why he drank, and how personal pain can deeply affect and challenge anyone.
"The drinking was what would kick my butt for a long time. ... I believe any of us can be brought to our knees whether from physical or emotional pain. Over the years, I learned how fragile we humans can be. Emotionally, I used that as an excuse to start drinking again. ... I would drink all day sometimes."
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