Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, changes lives every day.
Leaf entered the NFL as the No. 2 draft pick behind No. 1 Payton Manning 19 years ago. His rookie season with the San Diego Chargers was subpar, and he spent his NFL career bouncing around from one team to another. After just four years in the league, his career unraveled, leading to a downward spiral of events for him.
Entering the NFL, there were three things that were important to Leaf—money, power, and prestige. He believed he was powerful because he was a famous athlete with a lot of money. If anyone said “no” to him, he would discard them from his life—even his parents. Leaf did not respond well to the media, he didn’t get along with anyone on his teams, and as he puts it in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, was “manipulative, narcissistic, deceitful, and a thief.” His ego was bursting at the seams, and his selfish habits took charge of the choices he made.
Leaf was 28 when his career ended. The media and fans put him in the spotlight as one of the NFL’s biggest busts. He felt like a failed football player and a bad person. And although drugs and alcohol didn’t play a major role in his life, he found refuge in painkillers—a drug that was readily available to him during injury recoveries and bouts of pain. He would use the drugs to numb his feelings. At one point, and he even tried to commit suicide.
Shortly after, Leaf broke into the homes of friends and other people to take their pills. He was put in a Montana jail April 1, 2012, with a 32-month prison sentence to follow. “My narcissism, my self-loathing existed pretty much through the whole period,” he said. “About 26 months in, [my cellmate] got on me real hard one day about having my head buried in the sand. He said I didn’t understand the value I had, not only to the guys in there but when I would get out. ‘Because Ryan,’ he told me, ‘you’re going to get out at some point.’ So he told me that day that we were going to go down to the prison library and teach some other inmates how to read.”
Leaf said this was the first time in his life he had ever been of service to anybody but himself. After spending a lot of time helping inmates learn to read, something finally changed. He couldn’t understand why it was something as simple as assisting with basic literacy, but it made a world of a difference to him. Leaf no longer wanted to feel sorry for himself or continue on his narcissistic path. He wanted to completely change and do something big after he got out of prison, and sure enough, he did.
Leaf was released December 12, 2014, and although he was sober, he sought treatment and entered rehab for 90 days to prepare for his new, brighter path.
With a new perspective on life, Leaf was hired as a driver and ultimately became a program ambassador at Transcend Recovery Community. As a program ambassador, he travels to recovery communities to share his story with women and men in hopes that they will be inspired to reach high, be good to others, and achieve their goals.
“Thursdays are my favorite days,” Leaf said. “I get up at 6, I’m in the gym at 7, and I’m in the office from about 9 until 1 p.m. Then, I’m back to the gym for a program that works with former combat vets. I’m home around 5 p.m. with my fiancé and our little dog. You know, that’s a boring life. And boring is not a bad word anymore.”
An act of kindness like teaching his fellow inmates to read, not only helped them, but helped Leaf discover a fresh new life of gratitude, kindness, and hope.