Ryan Leaf and Aaron Hernandez: Two Tragic Stories; One Happy Ending
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
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.”
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.
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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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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