Ryan Leaf was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, but four franchises and five seasons later, he was out of the league for good. He ran into numerous legal issues and became addicted to painkillers. Leaf has been clean for just over four years, this after relapsing in 2011.
“I had to pay the consequences for my actions,” Leaf told Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray, who were filling in as hosts of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I think for the longest time, I never took accountability for anything. I always could try to spin it and blame it on somebody else, but I finally had to take a look in the mirror and be humbled to the point of waking up on a prison-cell floor and then dealing with those consequences. Now, don’t get me wrong. I went through a lot of depression and self-loathing while I was in prison, but at one point, I just looked at it and saw that I was of value. When I finally decided that I had a message and that I could make something of my life – I was only 38 years old. That’s half a lifetime.”
Leaf, 39, is now a motivational speaker for Transcend Recovery Community, which provides a sober living experience for addicts hoping to get clean. If Leaf can change the life of just one person, he’ll be happy.
“I was miserable,” he said, “and if I can allow someone who is struggling or family members that are struggling with their children or parents to not be in that miserable experience, then that’s the job. It’s a job well done then. And it also helps me tremendously to be of service because I always took. I never gave anything. If I did anything, there was an ulterior motive behind it. And now being of service, that’s life-changing for a person when they can finally accept that and surrender to the idea that putting love out there rather than negativity is so important. . . . My life is peaceful and unchaotic right now, and those are two things that just didn’t exist for me. I created chaos.”
Sounds like another former first-round draft pick, Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman Trophy winner has been dumped by the Browns and multiple agents.
“I’ve reached out to Johnny,” Leaf said. “That’s all we can do. We can be supportive and unconditionally love somebody for who they truly are. His identity is tied up in this Johnny Football caricature. I don’t know if he really knows who he is, or he doesn’t get to express who he really is to people – and I went through that for a long time. It’s like looking in a mirror sometimes. So we can be there.”
Leaf compared his life’s work to a lighthouse.
“You don’t see lighthouses running around the harbor looking for boats,” he said. “The boats come to the light. You see what others have and you go to that. That’s what’s happened for me. I see who I want to be in other people and I go and ask them and I ask them for help or I ask them questions on how he got there. I didn’t listen to anybody before. I thought I could deal with everything on my own because if you were vulnerable or asked for help, that was weak.”
It’s also not something star quarterbacks usually do. After all, they’re the leaders. They’re the alpha males.
“I always had to be the guy people came to for help,” Leaf said. “I had to be the strong one. But asking for help is one of the strongest things I’ve ever done – and it’s a powerful way to change your life. . . . My hope is when I speak or when I tell my story, the person who’s listening will go, ‘I don’t want to go to that point.’ But let me be clear: (Waking up in a jail was) my bottom. (Manziel’s) bottom – or anybody who’s struggling with this disease – it has to be their bottom. They have to surrender and accept the help.”