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 Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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