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One of the NFL's Most Notorious Busts Celebrates Turning Life Around, 7 Years Sobriety

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Every introductory sentence ever written about Ryan Leaf, including this one, must necessarily include the word “bust” as if “Notorious Draft Bust Ryan Leaf” was the name on his driver’s license.

But even though Leaf washed out of the NFL way back in 2001 after just 21 pro starts in which he went 4-17 and threw just 14 touchdown passes against 36 interceptions for an atrocious 50.0 career quarterback rating, the 42-year-old Leaf’s life had only just begun to fall apart.

Leaf was accused of burglary and presenting an incomplete medical history to obtain prescription drugs in Texas in 2008, according to Fox News. Leaf eventually ended up on probation.

As ESPN notes, on March 30, 2012, Leaf was arrested on burglary, theft, and drug charges in his hometown of Great Falls, Montana.

“I was arrested the next day for going into the homes of friends and other people and taking their pills. Like I said, I never knew a drug dealer, so I had to find inventive ways to get what I needed. I wasn’t a good criminal,” Leaf told the Los Angeles Times in 2017.

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“They threw me in a Montana jail cell on April 1, 2012. I would spend the next 32 months in prison,” he added. That moment seemed to be the spark that would eventually turn his life around.

Leaf took to Twitter to celebrate “#7yearssober” and it was not an April Fool’s joke.

Is Ryan Leaf the biggest NFL draft bust of all time?

Even after April 1, 2012, Leaf was still hounded by personal demons. As USA Today noted, he had a stint in rehab cut short by “behavior that violated conditions of his drug treatment placement” and a case where he threatened a staff member at his drug treatment program.

The former No. 2 overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft finally saw the light of day as a free man in December of 2014, per The Great Falls Tribune.

Since getting out of prison, Leaf has dedicated his life to trying to prevent young athletes and young people in general from falling into the same traps that he did.

Leaf wrote a “Letter To My Younger Self” for The Players’ Tribune in 2017 in which he told his 21-year-old self outright that “you don’t know s—.”

Leaf also points out that trying to tough his way through a staph infection was the biggest factor in his transition from a promising, highly-touted prospect to that of one of the biggest busts in the history of professional sports.

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Leaf talks about how his teammates in San Diego—high-profile guys like Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, and John Carney—all tried to reach out to him, and in every case, Leaf, young and arrogant and not in his best place emotionally, angrily brushed them off.

Leaf also opened up about all of the pain, misery and bad decisions that landed him in jail as the ultimate April Fool.

So now it’s 2019. Ryan Leaf is alive, he is substance-free, he is running a charity in an effort to atone for his past sins.

Leaf was on the Dan Patrick Show last week, and the show’s Twitter account even called him a “legend” and lauded him for his efforts to “help others learn from his mistakes.”

Leaf is going to be part of a documentary series called “Busts” that chronicles the life of various “busts” and how they handle the aftermath of a failed sports career.

And Leaf’s charity, the Focused Intensity Foundation, raises money for drug and mental health treatment for people who need but cannot afford such remedies.

Seven years ago, Ryan Leaf nearly took his own life and ended up in prison.

Today, he has a purpose that his younger self could not have possibly imagined.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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