Ryan Leaf Opens Up About The Tragic News of Vincent Jackson And Pleads for NFL Do More To Help NFL Veterans
You may remember Ryan Leaf as a fellow Hesiman Trophy nominee in 1997 with Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning, and Randy Moss. The Washington State standout quarterback was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Chargers (previously known, of course, as the San Diego Chargers).
What seemingly started out great as a number two pick in the NFL draft would quickly turn into something worse. As the AP reported, “Four years later he was out of professional football and became addicted to prescription pills, which led to burglary and drug charges and a prison sentence.”
“Leaf recalled attending a boxing match in Las Vegas in the time shortly after hanging it up in the NFL and being booed loudly by the crowd as the announcer recognized celebrities in attendance. At an after-fight party, he took a Vicodin, and for the next eight years, kept trying to chase that high, he said. ‘I was a drug addict long before I ever took a drug,’ Leaf said. ‘I didn’t know any better.'”
According to the Argus Leader, “After quitting football in 2002 prior to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks, Leaf eventually returned to the sport as an assistant coach at West Texas A&M.”
It was at West Texas A7M that Leaf “was fired for stealing painkillers from an injured player.” He would go on to spend three years in prison for burglarizing a Montana home while looking for drugs.
“He made an attempt at suicide, cutting his wrist open…when it didn’t work, he decided he was going to drive his car to his parents’ home and asphyxiate himself in their garage. ‘The two people who unconditionally loved me would have been the people to find me,’ he said. ‘You don’t think about anyone else. Suicide is all about you.'”
Leaf in multiple reports has described his selfishness and arrogance that played into him eventually not making it in the NFL and why so many outlets termed him a “bust” after being the second pick in the draft.
“I was an ego maniac with a self-esteem problem and that’s what most addicts are like,” Leaf said via the Baltimore Sun. “I was a drug addict long before I ever took a drug. I think it was just exacerbated by the fame and the fortune of it all. I was so scared of everybody that I worked so hard to try to be better than everybody else. It didn’t work out. And it’s a humbling thing when you finally have an understanding of who you are.”
It wasn’t until prison, when he was at rock bottom, when he decided to turn his life around. Leaf has since wanted to give back as he’s given speeches (including this speech about his life and career shown on Washington State’s Global Connections YouTube channel), talked to students, telling his story seemingly in hopes it will encourage others to not repeat the same mistakes he did.
According to the Baltimore Sun: “Ryan Leaf spent most of his time in prison alone and angry until a military veteran persuaded the former No. 2 overall NFL draft pick to stop self-loathing long enough to help fellow inmates learn to read. Now the once-star college quarterback who is widely considered the biggest bust in league history is helping former players adapt to retirement and trying to make sure they cope far better than he did.”
For these reasons and probably many more, the tragic news of the beloved Vincent Jackson hit home for Leaf.
Jackson, the consummate professional in the NFL on and off the field, as evidenced by his four consecutive Walter Payton Man of the Year nominations (per the Buccaneers), was active in giving back to the community. Jackson also founded the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation, which according to its site “provide(s) support to military families, focusing on the educational, emotional, and physical health of the children which supports military members and their families.”
“I just was really emotional. I can relate,” Leaf says said via TMZ Sports. “There was some empathy behind it because he was alone in a hotel room dying and I felt that way. I’ve been in a hotel room and was dying alone.”
According to ESPN: “Jackson, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver, was found dead in a Brandon, Florida, hotel room on Monday (February 15)…there were no medications found on scene. Under ‘social history,’ it listed alcohol use, smokeless tobacco use and no known drug use. The report listed the cause and manner of his death as ‘pending further study,’ meaning it is not immediately known what killed him. ‘There cannot be a rush to judgment in determining cause and manner of death,’ Michelle Van Dyke, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, said in an email.”
According to Tampa area radio station Q105 MJ Morning Show’s Roxanne Wilder on February 17, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was on the MJ Morning Show talking about Jackson: “(Jackson) leaves such a legacy both on and off the field. When we spoke with Sheriff Chad Chronister this morning about Vincent Jackson’s passing, the Sheriff said that after looking at autopsy reports, it has been determined that Jackson suffered from chronic alcoholism, and there are concerns of CTE.”
Sheriff Chronister detailed how Jackson’s family told the sheriff that Jackson “suffered from CTE”.
“This is true speculation but what the family’s telling me is he suffered from CTE,” Sheriff Chronister said per My Q105. “They believed he had a lot of concussion problems and when you suffer from that you’re not yourself. You’re not your normal self and they believe wholeheartedly…all of these actions are a result of what he suffered while he was playing in (the) NFL.”
“The New York Times first reported Thursday that the Jackson family had donated his brain to BU’s CTE Center…’If anything can be learned from his death that might help someone else, Vincent would want that since he was passionate during his life about impacting others around him,’ family spokesperson Allison Gorrell told ESPN” according to ESPN.
Leaf had something to say to the NFL and the NFLPA.
“I don’t know who needs to hear this, or if I just needed to say it, but I will not continue to stand by and watch my brothers disappear because the multi billion $$$ corporation won’t do the right thing. @[email protected] do something!! #igoturback#nflbrotherhood,” Leaf said in the Tweet.
In the video he posted, Leaf said “the NFL just doesn’t…care”.
“The NFL just doesn’t…care…they’ll write condolence letters and (crap) like that but if they were invested they’d actually put some money behind the legends community and into the mental health substance abuse side of it…once you’re bad for the brand, the shield, they could give two (craps),” Leaf said in a video he posted on Twitter. “I don’t know what the (heck) to do. They don’t get how precious life is and I have this…survivor’s guilt, a ton of it. You need to do something…just be part of the solution, please.”
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
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