By Ken Reed
At one point, Ryan Leaf and Aaron Hernandez were both NFL stars with promising futures. But they both ended up in jail. Leaf on drug charges and Hernandez due to a murder conviction.
Hernandez, a former New England Patriot, ended his life this week by hanging himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell. It seemed like the inevitable end of a life that had been spiraling downhill for years.
Leaf also tried to commit suicide but failed. But his life has turned around for the better, thanks in large part to a push from a cellmate who forced Leaf to go down to the prison library with him one day to help other inmates learn how to read. It was the first time the self-centered Leaf had served anyone besides himself.
From that point forward, it would be service to others that would turn Leaf’s life completely around.
“Being of service to other people is transformational,” says Leaf today. “I’ve learned it’s not about me. It’s about service.”
Leaf admits his ego has always been a problem for him, so much so that being driven by it led him to jail.
“My best (ego) thinking in my life took me to a prison cell,” says Leaf.
“It’s important to remember that. Every day I struggle with ego, narcissism, and all those behaviors that existed long before my drug addiction.”
Today, Leaf is engaged. A child is on the way. He’s a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a sober living organization with locations in Los Angeles, New York and Houston. He also shares his cautionary tale with NFL rookies as part of the NFL Legends program. He regularly addresses alcoholics and addicts. He speaks to high school students. And he’s part of a program that includes getting former combat vets to exercise in a gym.
“I try to stay out of the result,” says Leaf when talking about his work with others.
“I do my part, that’s the best I can do. I’m doing what I can control. Others will make their own decisions. We’re all just flawed human beings trying to be better on a daily basis. If you have a choice to do things in a positive way or negative way and you choose the positive way good things will happen. I just happened to choose the negative way so long and it just caught up with me. Today, I realize I have control over making decisions that are positive or negative, and that’s freeing for me.”
For much of his life, Leaf has been angry, fearful, and worried about the judgment of others. Today, he focuses on making good decisions and helping other people, instead of worrying about what they might think of him.
He starts every day by reciting an affirmation to himself that his therapist gave him: “What other people think of me is none of my business.”
That affirmation could probably help all of us.
It’s working wonders for Ryan Leaf.
For more information on Leaf’s work as Program Ambassador, visit Transcend Recovery Community.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.