Ryan Leaf Overcame Opioids, Prison to Become Inspirational Recovery Advocate

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Ryan Leaf is known by many football fans as perhaps the greatest bust in NFL Draft history. His career began with an endless debate about who should be taken first in the 1998 draft- himself, or the man who did get selected first overall, Peyton Manning. While Leaf only saw 25 games of action over the course of three seasons, Manning went on to win five MVP awards, two Super Bowls and get selected to 14 Pro Bowls.

Given the elite level of Manning’s many prodigious accomplishments, Leaf’s washing out of the league by age 26 seems even more disappointing by comparison. That’s extremely unfair on many levels to Ryan Leaf, but unfortunately that is how this chapter in the book of sports history has been written.

Not to go all ESPN 30 for 30 style on you, but “what if I told you” football was from the most interesting aspect of the Ryan Leaf story?

And it’s a tale that is, of course, still very much in the progress of being told.

Leaf has now found his calling as a behavioral and mental health advocate, and he will deliver the keynote address at the 2nd Annual Gala for Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center on Friday night. The fundraiser will be held in the Drake Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood on November 2nd.

Proceeds raised from the event will go towards supporting addiction recovery efforts for those most vulnerable.

Ryan Leaf is currently the Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, and Chair of FIF.

The former Heisman Trophy finalist, who led Washington State to the 1997 Rose Bowl, still has a very strong presence in the game as he now hosts “PAC-12 This Morning” on SiriusXM 373, Monday-Friday 7-10 AM PT. The Los Angeles based media personality also currently has a television presence, serving as an analyst for PAC-12 Network.

However, the road Leaf took to get where he is today is rockier than anyone could imagine.  Mental health issues took their toll on the Great Falls, Montana native and opioids were his way out. There was great pain in his life and his addiction to painkillers sent him on a very dark and extremely downward spiral.

In a very revealing radio interview, Leaf referred to April 1, 2012 as the worst day in his life. It was then that he looked up ways to commit suicide, and even went so far as to slash his wrist.

ryan lead peyton manning

That was also the day that he broke into a house in order to steal painkiller pills and, having already acquired a rap sheet by that point, was handed a seven year prison sentence. He ended up serving 32 months and it was during that time he finally reached rock bottom, and then turned it all around.

Today, Leaf is a leading advocate for the recovery community and he travels all across the United States giving inspirational speeches. His mission is to reach those in need and try to help inspire others to begin the long road to recovery. He shares his story of dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse, striving to eliminate the mental health stigma.

Leaf emphasizes this message: “asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Above and Beyond, a nonprofit center located in East Garfield Park – was founded and funded in 2015 by businessman Bryan Cressey. You can find more information on Above and Beyond online.

Tickets for the gala headlined by Ryan Leaf can be obtained by visiting this site.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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