After spending time as an NFL quarterback and behind bars, Ryan Leaf is trying to change his narrative.
Leading up to the 1998 NFL Draft the biggest discussion was who should be taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Manning was ultimately taken first with Leaf going second. However, after a short NFL career Leaf was out of the league and turned to prescription pills as a coping mechanism.
Today, Leaf is far from the person who was charged with five years in prison after breaking into homes to steal prescription medicine, but he has no regrets over what he’s done in his past.
“I don’t know [what I would change], but I wish I would’ve treated people better,” Leaf said. “It’s a slippery slope because if I didn’t go through what I went through I’m not the person I am right now.”
Leaf was viewed by many coming out of college as the next great NFL quarterback. In his junior season at Washington State, he threw for 34 touchdowns and was a finalist for the Heisman trophy, but that’s not what he’s remembered for today.
Today he’s remembered as the former NFL quarterback who scolded reporters and spent time behind bars, but over the past few years Leaf has been rehabilitating his image and helping others who have gone through similar experiences.
“My roommate in prison was very impactful, he was this guardian angel of sorts to help give me a different mindset,” Leaf said. “He suggested that we go down to the prison library and help prisoners learn how to read, and it ended up being something that gave me a shift. I was of service to another human being for the first time in my life.”
Still, despite moving forward and focusing on the work he’s doing now with his Focused Intensity Foundation, Leaf is more than transparent when talking about how he got to the point of breaking into homes to feed his addiction.
“I would knock on the door, and if no one was home — this is Montana no one locks their doors — I’d open the door and say ‘anybody home I’m looking for so and so,’ and if no one answered I’d just let myself in,’” Leaf said. “Nine times out of 10 a home would have pills. It was a breeding ground to feed my habit.”
Leaf began to abuse prescription pills after his career in the NFL was over, but it was in college that he got a feel for what they could do after using them to recover from orthopedic surgery. The numbness the pills provided fueled Leaf to continue using, as a way to escape the mental health issues he was dealing with.
It got to the point where when Leaf was unable to find pills, he attempted to take his own life.
“When I couldn’t be high or numb my only answer to that was ‘I can’t feel these feelings,” Leaf said. “I needed out of that, and the only way for me to be out of that was to be high or dead.”
It was Leaf’s final arrest that ultimately helped him turn his life around after spending time behind bars. And with the help of his parents, he vowed to be a different person when he got out of prison.
Today, Leaf’s attention is on his family, his Focused Intensity Foundation, which helps those struggling with addiction to get the help they need, and trying to live by the motto that we’re all flawed human beings who are trying to get better every day.
In an effort to help those struggling with addiction Leaf spent time in Chicago speaking at an event for the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, which prides itself in ensuring that anyone who seeks help will receive it regardless of their financial situation.
“Anything that does something similar to what [my foundation does], if our values match up I want to be in support of,” Leaf said. “I think that goes a long way in changing the stigma,” Leaf said.