Sep 20, 1997; Champaign, IL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Washington State Cougars quarterback Ryan Leaf (16) in action against the Illinois Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: US PRESSWIRE
There is no rock bottom. There's death, sure, but there's no rock bottom. It's a nice sentiment that makes for easy stories -- a person crashes down to a low point, personally, before climbing out of the hole and righting themselves triumphantly. In retrospect it may be easy to pinpoint the low point, but not in the present.
Ryan Leaf has not hit rock bottom yet, as far as any of us know. He may have seemed like he hit it before, be it when he allegedly broke into a home in Texas to steal prescription pills or when he was arrested at the Canadian border, forced to face a variety of charges in the state he used to coach in. He may have seemed like he crawled out of the hole and stood triumphantly over the grave of his former self -- the self-centered, immature addict whose troubles with life and drugs are well-documented kicked the addiction and spoke out about his troubles.
But he didn't. The demons will always be near, chasing him from behind, waiting for him to slip. There's no shaking them, and when those demons pounce, the effects are damning.
Just over a day after police arrested Leaf for burglary, theft and possession of a dangerous substance, he did it again. On Sunday morning, Leaf allegedly broke into a home and stole 89 hydrocodone pills and a bottle of liquid codeine. On Monday, he was arrested again, picked out of a lineup and plopped in jail for the second time in four days.
Leaf's life is in a dire state, hanging in the balance as he's swallowed up by addiction. Things are serious, perhaps life-threatening.
If you doubted Leaf's struggles, blaming them on his personality and immaturity, it might be time to put whatever feelings his name conjures up aside. This isn't Ryan Leaf, snot-nosed NFL Draft bust, whose immaturity was his downfall. This is Ryan Leaf, prescription pill addict, whose disease is much more serious than may have met the eye.
He's been through this before, fighting and, temporarily, overcoming his addiction -- as far as we know -- to become a functioning member of society. He wrote a book. He talked about his trials and tribulations. He told anyone who would listen about his fight with addiction.
You might think he sold you some bullshit. Don't fall into that trap. Leaf was selling himself, his recovery, as a cautionary tale. The addiction wasn't gone, and it continued to chase him. He may have been clean, but he was never out of the woods.
Leaf has some serious, deep-rooted issues that just won't go away. Something is causing him to turn to pills, but I'm not sure even he knows what. Sure, the brain tumor and resulting radiation treatment may have put a strain on his life and well-being, but there's something more hovering over his head -- after all, before the tumor and before the treatment, Leaf was turning to pills to cope.
It's easy to look at Leaf's life and think he had everything made. He starred at Washington State, coming within two seconds of winning the Rose Bowl. He was the other half of the debate about which player should go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Peyton Manning won the argument, and has become quite the NFL quarterback, to say the least. Leaf earned more than most of us will see in our lifetime for busting out of the NFL in spectacular fashion.
And yet, there's more to life than money and fame. Leaf did earn a handsome sum, but spent the next few years succumbing to addiction and becoming a laughing stock. That Ryan Leaf, they said, had it all and blew it all. What a terrible person.
When Leaf is wandering through neighborhoods, searching for pills, things have gone beyond a small-time addiction. When he's bonding out of jail and going on a hunt for drugs -- likely because his body needs the chemical like it needs water -- things are dire. Leaf's problem is worse than most of us probably imagined, and the past four days are a window into how bad of a relapse he's in the midst of -- how constant the struggle against addiction is.
I keep a few Twitter searches open all the time, to track things I have interest in. Most are related to athletics, and one is Ryan Leaf. Since Friday, the column has been filled with bad news and bad words -- a disheartening sight to behold. I was worried he would end up in jail again, and he did on Monday morning. It was a reminder of how the grip of addiction can cause people to do some strange things.
But what I fear the most is seeing news of Leaf's passing. At some point, if he continues on this path, Leaf will encounter a homeowner with a shotgun. Or the addition will be too much and he'll take his own life.
I just hope he gets the help and treatment he so desperately needs before it gets to that point. Because no matter what you think about Leaf and his professional career, no man deserves to die because he can't wriggle free from the grips of a crippling addiction.