The travails of Ryan Leaf have been well documented over the years. After a disastrous NFL career, Leaf began using prescription painkillers to blunt emotional pain, became an addict, and found himself in a Montana prison for 32 months.
During that time, Leaf’s cellmate was a combat veteran who convinced Leaf to join him at the prison library to teach fellow inmates to read.
Leaf told the story in the Los Angeles Times:
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 was profound for Leaf. When he got out of prison he’d been clean for 32 months, but hadn’t resolved his underlying addiction.
I knew I had to build a foundation. I went and sought treatment immediately when I got out. I was there for 90 days. Being in treatment when I was three years sober and living with people who were just detoxing was difficult. It taught me patience and a different perspective. I knew what was out there for me if I chose to continue my destructive behavior.
Leaf now works for a recovery center based in Los Angeles, Houston and New York. He travels the country telling his story.