A lot of young people believe that they are invincible, and this sentiment is even more common among professional athletes.
Ryan Leaf knows from experience. The No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft lasted just four years in the league and had numerous behavioral and legal issues during and after his playing days. He is a cautionary tale for aspiring athletes.
He is also, at 40, a Program Ambassador at Transcend Recovery and visits with NFL prospects at the Combine.
“I just told them that I was there for them to be a support,” Leaf said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “ I was a support staff if they needed it. Some asked questions; some didn’t. I can do what I can control. That’s a big thing: understanding that what I can do is my part, and those who choose to take it and utilize it is up to them. If I stay out of the result, there’s no consequences on my part except for the fact that I’m showing up and doing my part.”
Some prospects asked Leaf big-picture questions, while others were focused on Combine-specific concerns.
“I think the best question was when a young man asked me what he should do when he got asked a question that he felt really uncomfortable with,” Leaf said. “I think it was a question like how many girlfriends did you have in college? I don’t know if that was a sexuality question to try to understand that part of it. Who knows? But it made him feel uncomfortable. But you’re in this position where you want to impress these men who are asking these questions because this is your dream. I told him be aware of that, and if you have to, tell them it makes you feel uncomfortable. You still have to be honest to yourself.”
Leaf also received a direct question about his own life: Where did it go wrong?
“You got to remember that even though you’re a great football player, it doesn’t make you a good person,” Leaf explained. “If you’re able to work on the latter, it usually leads to a promising career. Even if this doesn’t happen – because this game is so fleeting – it will lead to a peaceful and unchaotic life after because the transition is so much more difficult than people can understand.”
Leaf also stressed the importance of acting with high character and integrity, especially in the social media age in which we live. Videos, Leaf explained, take a “stronger hold” on people because they can see what happened and the images stay with them. Take Ray Rice and Joe Mixon, for example.
The solution? Treat women, fans, the media – everyone – with respect.
“You can really kill your narrative,” Leaf said. “When you’re working with people in the media, it’s very important to show respect – even though you may not feel like you’re getting it. It’s part of the job. You chose to do this, and the entitlement of not having to, in some people’s eyes, lower yourself to deal with these situations is clearly the wrong way to look at it. Like I said before, just because you’re a great athlete doesn’t mean you’re a good person. You got to remember that part of it. It’s a humbling experience. Take the high road.”