There was a time when most of us wouldn't have been willing to write that headline. We don't need to rehash the man's personal failings. We know what happened.
It might seem odd that I'm willing to write it now, especially on the heels of his guilty plea on drug charges this week. And while I was encouraged by the statement he prepared and read after the judge accepted plea -- and also encouraged by the other steps he's taken in his life -- there still was a part of me that was taking a huge wait-and-see approach.
Until I listened to this. (Which you should do right now if you haven't yet.)
Ryan Leaf with KJR-950's Ian Furness (4/14)
I don't pretend to know Ryan Leaf. We were never friends, and we didn't exactly hang out when we were in school together. But I did spend a pretty significant amount of time around him in various football-related capacities -- enough to get a sense of when he was trying to snow people (most of the time) and when he was being forthright (rarely).
I feel fairly confident saying that the Ryan Leaf that speaks in that interview is not the same Ryan Leaf I spoke to 13 years ago. Not once did I ever hear Leaf genuinely take responsibility for really anything he ever did. Not for any of his play on the field (which was generally awesome, but nobody's perfect) and certainly not for any of his petulant behavior off of it. When interviewing him back in the day, my B.S. meter was generally pegged.
I detected none of that in this interview.
Is he truly as changed as he says? Obviously, I can't say anything with 100 percent confidence, because as guys such as Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger have so spectacularly demonstrated over the years, we just don't really know these guys. But from a distance, I'd say that the indications are as good as they possibly can be.
And I can't begin to tell you how happy this makes me. I've talked at times about my personal take on Leaf, and I think a lot of that was confirmed in that interview -- that he was unhappy and terribly insecure. People who are hurting will hurt people, and I think it's pretty clear that, by his own admission, Leaf was a hurting person. He certainly sounds like he's found a measure of peace, and even as he treated me and other people poorly, that's all I ever really wanted for him.
The name Ryan Leaf has been a running punch line for a long time -- even in some Cougar circles. I can't even begin to imagine what that's like. So for him to step up and face everything at this point demonstrates an incredible amount of maturity -- maturity I honestly wasn't sure he'd ever obtain. For that, I'm incredibly proud of him.
And for the first time in a long time, I think we all should be proud to call Ryan Leaf a Coug. I'm glad he's one of ours.