On Wednesday, former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf shared his personal experiences with drug addiction and alcoholism during "An Evening with Ryan Leaf." The event was part of the wellness initiative on campus and served as the inaugural opening of the LMU Center for Student Recovery.
Leaf was the keynote speaker of the event, and he was joined by a panel featuring the president of Lions for Recovery senior international relations major Alyssa Rios, vice president of Lions for Recovery sophomore English major Lukas Wood, CEO of Transcend Recovery Community Joni Ogle, incoming freshman Alec Hill and LMU alum Teddy Karrer, who spoke on their own experiences and insights on recovery.
“Drinking is an institution in this country,” said Leaf. “To have a safe and sober environment [on campus], I’m just really proud to be here tonight.”
Leaf played college football for three years at Washington State University where he would lead the team to the Rose Bowl in 1998. His play in college caught the eye of NFL scouts, and he would soon be drafted second overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 NFL draft, right after eventual five time MVP and two time Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning.
Leaf’s NFL career would last five years, playing for the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks. He left the NFL hoping that escaping the spotlight would help him feel better, however it was after his NFL career ended that his life began to take a turn towards substance misuse.
“Competition was my first drug of choice. And now I didn’t have that anymore,” said Leaf. “I found my answer — it was the unhealthy, toxic answer.”
Today, Leaf works as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community. He tells his story of addiction and recovery to help people who are struggling themselves with substance abuse and challenges with their mental health.
“Life isn’t fair. It’s not. It’s never going to be, but it’s how you deal with life is what matters, because you have no control over anything else,” said Leaf. “All you can control is how you deal with the situation, whether it's in a healthy, positive way or a negative and toxic [way]. It’s going to be your choice.”
It was after leaving the NFL and the celebrity lifestyle that came with it when Leaf realized, through working at Transcend Recovery Community, the impact he could make by helping others and doing service towards others who were in a similar situation as him.
“I was making 5 million dollars a year and I was miserable doing it,” said Leaf. “Then I was offered a job for 15 dollars an hour and felt more value because of what I was doing.”
The panel opened up with the younger members of the panel speaking on their own battles with addiction and being college students themselves. The panel members described how the Lions for Recovery club has helped them feel safe and comfortable in a community on campus.
“I feel like Lions for Recovery has given me a group to hold myself accountable to. The thought of everyone in the group know[ing] what we’re going through and [not being] ashamed to have high and low days is comforting,” said Rios.
Ogle mentioned that the community the organization has created is something that is a strength, and an aspect that they have worked hard to achieve for those who are seeking recovery.
”We typically don’t get sober in isolation and we stay sober in community. That’s one of the things we have worked hard to create and transcend to the recovery community so that people feel welcome,” said Ogle.