Ryan Leaf is synonymous with the word “NFL bust.” He transcended that reputation to an extent, working as a sportscaster among other public-facing projects. But for most NFL fans, he’s a prominent quirk of the draft process. Leaf is the Sam Bowie to fellow 1998 pick Peyton Manning’s Michael Jordan.
Underperformance on the field wasn’t the whole story, of course. Leaf’s chaotic personal life, marred by substance abuse issues, nearly ruined any hope of him maintaining an NFL career. He overcame his issues; until, recently, he slipped up in horrifying fashion once more. But a closer look at his life reveals someone more interesting than his most famous moments.
Ryan Leaf’s short-lived NFL career
Leaf nearly went No. 2 overall in the 1998 NFL draft. He earned that level of attention in a very direct way. Leading the Washington State Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in six decades in 1997, as the Seattle Times details, he made himself impossible for the NFL to ignore.
He came to Washington as an introverted kid with few friends. He left a confident, adored regional celebrity. When the San Diego Chargers leaped on Leaf with their second overall pick, there was no reason to think he wouldn’t bring that same newfound swagger to the national stage.
Instead, he immediately struggled. He wasn’t lost the way rookies almost always are; he was a walking disaster. The pressure consumed him, leading to public outbursts. Pro-Football-Reference notes his NFL win/loss record was a dismal 4-17.
By his third season, he was sent packing as one of the biggest NFL busts of all time. Three other teams gave him a chance, with little success. Once the Seattle Seahawks said goodbye in 2002, Leaf was out of the NFL for good.
Leaf’s life after the NFL
What happened next for Leaf is well-trodden ground. What’s more interesting to discuss than his opiate addiction, and the related possession and burglary convictions, is where his life went afterward. At his worst moment, the other side of Leaf’s coin stayed present. The Manning family reached out, to voice their support for his recovery.
It didn’t land on entirely deaf ears. In prison, with the prodding of a veteran friend also serving time, Leaf took up teaching. He found a new purpose in life. This drove him toward assisting other inmates with substance abuse issues.
This experience helped Leaf leverage a lucrative book deal. His three-book cycle will cover the winding breadth of his often difficult life. The first book is currently available.
In 2011, Leaf had a tumor removed from his brain stem, according to the Seattle Times. While this difficult period led to a 2012 backslide into addiction, he recovered quickly. By 2016, he was a regular guest in sports media, often asked to illuminate the issues troubled players face in the NFL.
The former QB’s latest run-in with the law
Sadly, Leaf hasn’t quite stabilized his personal life for good. At 44, he remains an athlete closely associated with run-ins with the law. His latest, though, breaks his usual cycle of drug possession and drug-related robbery incidents.
Romantically tied to former George town volleyball player and current model/actress Anna Kleinsorge, Leaf was arrested on a domestic battery charge in May of 2020. His conviction is pending, with a court date due in September, reports TMZ. It’s a sign of deeper instability, not directly related to addiction, that Leaf needs to address.
The incident occurred shortly after Leaf posted the Instagram tribute to the mother of his child seen above. He also posted a heartwarming Twitter video of his son around the same time. As always, social media is not a deep insight into anyone.
Whatever happened at Leaf’s home was something the public can’t truly understand. At least, not until Leaf or Kleinsorge illuminate the truth.