Ryan Leaf’s story is one the most powerful and moving I’ve ever heard. From Heisman Trophy to prison to addiction to recovery and service, Ryan has been an inspiration to many people.
Ryan never wanted to be a football star, specifically. “I wanted to be a football player. And I wanted to be a professional athlete—whatever that looked like for me,” he explained. “Basketball was it for so long. It was later that football became the most feasible for me as an athlete. I really excelled at it in college. I enjoyed my time in Washington state. We accomplished things that had never been done there. I was the first Heisman Trophy Finalist at the university. Of course, when things went poorly for me, it affected my success in the NFL. The average length of a career in the NFL is less than three years. Those who play 15, 16, 17 years are our Hall of Famers—the exception to the rule. That rule is, you are going to struggle. You’re going to take what you can get, and you’re going to be out of the league pretty darn quick. And I just wasn’t prepared for, or willing to accept, that that was actually a possibility.”
Ryan’s journey to rock bottom began when he was introduced to pain killers. “In college, I didn’t use painkillers, right? But in the NFL, they just gave them to you. They just handed them to you. It was like, ‘Here… this is how we get through the week.’ And, you know, I just wanted to play football. I never thought 10 years later I’d be homeless, breaking into people’s homes to get a fix. It was the accessibility. The idea that you can actually get it when you walk up on the plane to go home for road games. A quick fix. That was the reason why I started using. We used it to get through the week and maybe to get high. I liked it. I liked being able to block it all out. When my career ended, I had to deal with the emotional toll of everything, and I found the answer in the very thing that I used to get through the week—to play and mask the physical pain. I was retired from the NFL, and could use to mask my emotional pain.”
Ryan went to prison for burglary and drug charges, but unfortunately, the experience itself failed to curb his addiction. Still angry and self-loathing during his incarceration, Ryan recalled the experience. “There really isn’t much thought in it. There isn’t a deterrent, or anybody who can stop you, either. You have to become willing to finally stop yourself. That usually takes intervention. In my case, it took the Sheriff’s department of my hometown in Great Falls to come and save my life,” Ryan shares.
So, what was it that really turned him around?
His cellmate—a veteran who had been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He introduced Ryan to the idea of being of service by getting Ryan to join him in teaching prisoners how to read.
That experience changed everything.
“I knew then that being of service would be my new foundation when I got out,” Ryan says.
And it was. Now, Ryan travels the country to tell his story. He has also started the Focused Intensity Foundation to help addicts “get the support and guidance they need to build a life of long-lasting recovery.”
It was Ryan’s friend Bron Heussenstamm who brought him into the world of podcasting.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about putting together this podcast network called Bleav. I’d love for you to get in on the ground floor and help invest in and build the product with me.’ And I was like, yeah… it was a no brainer for me.”
Ryan’s weekly podcast, Bleav in The PAC 12, airs weekly during the football season, and twice monthly in the off season. He and his co-host Jonathan Rifkind break down every big conference game and provide expert insights and information about all things Pac-12 Football.
Now an entrepreneur and journalist for ESPN, Ryan Leaf focuses on being of service to others, bringing awareness and hope to others traveling the same path he has.
Thursday Night Tailgate
Hosts Chris Mascaro and Bob Lazzari
What makes “Where Are They Now?” shows so popular? Fans of stars are often interested in the current status of the legends they admire. They want answers to questions like: Are they still in the same field? What are their current goals and aspirations? How did they handle life after celebrityhood?
Thursday Night Tailgate answers those questions and more.
What motivated that NFL athlete to get into football? What were his favorite moments playing for those teams? What is he doing now to help the community?
For eight seasons, hosts Chris Mascaro and Bob Lazzari have drawn NFL fans to their weekly podcast to hear from the legends themselves. Interviewing players, coaches, and football journalists like Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier, NFL Coach Dan Reeves, Denver Bronco Rod Smith, Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, Steeler great Robin Cole, former Steeler Greg Lloyd, and Steeler Andy Russell, Chris and Bob also feature an “unsung hero of the week.”
I give this show four out of five mics. Personally, I’d like to hear more NFL legend interviews, rather than having the same guests come back each and every week.
The Jim Cornette Experience