Ryan LEaf

Should former Chargers QB Ryan Leaf be a role model or stigmatized? 

Ryan Leaf, a former NFL quarterback, recently talked about his past struggles both with football and drug dependency in front of former college players at the NFL Scouting Combine.

He is finally clean and sober after many years of fighting against drug addiction and although his football career was important and will forever follow him; there are more important things to consider when we talk about him.

After the Colts selected Payton Manning with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft, he was selected second overall by the San Diego Chargers.

As obvious as it’s in retrospect there was a mixed consensus over who was the better prospect. Bill Polian cites immaturity as one of the reasons he passed on him. Ryan himself said on the Dan Patrick Show” that he should have stayed in school for one more year as a way to develop into a better player and person. Although Polian was correct, Ryan was not just immature, he didn’t know how to cope with failure and that made him withdraw and he isolated himself. Later, it would lead to an addiction to pain killers, specifically Vicodin and oxycodone.

The addiction to drugs got so bad that it would lead him to a 5-year prison sentence (later reduced to 2 years) after playing a scheme in which he would steal drugs from people’s bathrooms in Montana, friends and strangers alike; that would be the tipping point.

He had previously resigned as quarterback’s coach at West Texas A&M because he asked students for pain killers. This was a new low, all the talk, all the expectations, all the potential was unfulfilled. This was supposed to be expected from a person that had already failed at both professional football and staying clean; if only life were as simple and absolute as good and bad.

Ryan Leaf’s life isn’t simple, and he shouldn’t be judged solely on his football acumen or lack thereof. He’s the victim of addiction to drugs, a disease that can’t be cured, just managed and controlled. Had he been placed in the correct environment with the correct support system, listened to the people around him and been more open to criticism, his life might have taken a different path.

Mike Freeman of Bleached Report says that, “there were Charger players who spoke about how Leaf didn’t truly listen to veterans. I remember the disappointment some players had in Leaf, how they felt strongly that he could have saved his career had he just listened to a handful of guys in the locker room. ” He didn’t listen and he can’t change that but he can change to better himself.

He’s no martyr and should be held accountable for the crimes he committed which he has. In spite of this, at the same time we have to look behind the “facemask” to truly understand what happened. He has an addiction, fights against depression, and has come to terms with it. He accepted it, asked for help and fights everyday not to fall apart. He’s no different from you, me, a friend, a neighbor, or anyone significant in life.

Speaking in front of NFL hopefuls is one of many steps in the right direction and although he’s always at risk of relapsing, Ryan Leaf should be praised for how much he has had to overcome (even if self-inflicted). He’s like most of us; only his fight is a bit different from ours.

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