Prison Changed The Life Of A Former NFL Player – For The Better

“So it went. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been of service to anybody but myself. Ever.”

From the start, Ryan Leaf's NFL career got off to a rocky start. He was battling Peyton Manning as the No. 1 draft pick in 1998 and lost.

Leaf went on to have just a four-year stint in the NFL, and began using prescription painkillers, becoming an addict and suicidal. His drug addiction landed him in a Montana prison for 32 months. 

His career was as good as gone.

However, while undergoing his jail term, Leaf went through a dramatic change that probably changed his life. His cellmate, who was a combat veteran, convinced him to teach fellow prison mates to read by joining the prison library.

While narrating his story he said, “About 26 months in, he got on me real hard one day about having my head buried in the sand. He said I didn't understand the value I had, not only to the guys in there but when I would get out. 'Because Ryan,' he told me, 'you're going to get out at some point.'

So he told me that day that we were going to go down to the prison library and teach some other inmates how to read. So I went. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been of service to anybody but myself. Ever. These men were vulnerable enough to ask for help at 40, 50, 60 years old, and they didn't know how to read.”


The experience of teaching his prison mates was overwhelming for Leaf and after getting out of prison after 32 months, he couldn’t get away from the "addiction" of teaching others. He’s now the program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a sober-living environment with nine homes in the Los Angeles, New York and Houston areas.

“It taught me patience and a different perspective. I knew what was out there for me if I chose to continue my destructive behavior,” he added.

He also travels the country telling his inspirational story.

Christian De Oliveira, Transcend’s chief operating officer, said, “Ryan’s celebrity and reach in the football world has allowed him to reach tons of people. You should hear the phone calls and read the emails, the social media response, and people asking for help because of what Ryan is doing. It’s overwhelmingly positive.”

Leaf’s inspirational story shows how drug addictions can be combated and how addicts can come back to life and serve others.





Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters 

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