This was written on Saturday morning, following Leaf's first arrest. He was arrested again, after allegedly committing the same offenses shortly after being bonded out of jail. This piece, however, still applies. For non-Leaf coverage, check out the photos and videos from the Martin Stadium renovation.
I don't know why Ryan Leaf was arrested on Friday afternoon, nor do I know the circumstances surrounding the situation that landed him, temporarily, in jail. What is known: Leaf was arrested at his probation office and booked on a felony burglary charge, a possession of a dangerous drug charge, and a misdemeanor theft charge. Connecting the dots, it's easy to come to the conclusion that Leaf, a man whose battles with addiction are well-documented, relapsed.
But we don't know yet. We don't know if he broke into a house and stole drugs from someone. We don't know why police picked him up at his parole office. He's admitted mistakes, but the details are still fuzzy.
Edit: We now have details and they're not good for Leaf.
We all know Leaf's story: After busting out of the NFL due to injuries and immaturity, he slipped into the dark world of addiction, eventually ending up with a criminal record. He went to rehab, cleaned up his act, wrote a book and seemed to be heading in the right direction. Friday's arrest doesn't change any of his story -- even the heading in the right direction part.
There are no rewrites in this story and there never will be. There also isn't an ending, and may never be. It's an ongoing affair, and like any story, it doesn't exactly follow the path one would expect or hope. I'd hoped Leaf would triumph over his addiction and go on to lead a happy, successful life. At the same time, I feared a relapse.
It was always possible, perhaps inevitable, that Leaf would slip up. No matter how well he seemed to be doing, there was no escaping the past. With problems mounting, specifically his brain surgery and radiation treatment, one had to wonder if Leaf would endure, if he could endure without drugs, his former crutch.
Ryan Leaf is an addict. Not a recovering addict. Not a recovered addict. Just an addict. And he'll always be an addict. His problem isn't an injury and it doesn't just heal and go away. It's not as though Leaf broke a bone that will someday be as good as new. If only it were that easy.
The problems Leaf is dealing with are a daily battle; a constant struggle that takes work; a fight that will never end. In some ways, his willingness to battle his addiction so publicly put him under the microscope, opening him up to scrutiny from every angle. He opened up, admitted his mistakes, took an introspective view of his past and spoke at length about his shortcomings, including addiction. Because he was so public, it always felt like some were ready to pounce on any misstep he made in his recovery.
Leaf isn't a victim, though, nor should he ever be seen as one. He's a man caught in the grips of addiction. He's wriggled free at times, sure, but it's something he hasn't escaped, nor will he ever.
When I saw news of Leaf's arrest, I was sad. It was news that triggered an emotional response -- part of the reason why I wrote "I give up." It wasn't meant to be taken as an "I give up on Leaf" statement, but more a sign of just how depressing everything was at that moment.
It's difficult to hope and root from afar, only to see what seemed to be a success story turn into just another cautionary tale. Friday's arrest was another twist, but certainly not the end.
I want to believe Leaf has changed for the better, and I know many others do, too. I want to see his story have a happy ending someday, and it seemed this arrest put that out of the picture. Upon reflection, it's a setback -- hopefully a wake-up call that prompts Leaf to continue to get help.
What's worse, the reaction to Leaf's arrest has been downright sickening. I've seen comments from people saying he deserved it and an astonishing desire to piss on the man while he's down. It doesn't make sense, and probably never will.
Why is it society is so quick to laugh at a man lying face down in a pool of his own vomit? Why is Ryan Leaf reviled? What did he ever do to you, person who is quick to mock, to make you hate him?
Is it because he was an NFL Draft bust? Because no matter what any of us think about sports, that's never a reason to celebrate one's failure in life.
Is it because he was an arrogant 20-something? Or because he was in the spotlight during his most personal failures? Or because he played for a rival school or team?
How did any of that affect your life? Why is it a reason to hate the man with such a passion?
It's amazing what sports can do to the general public. Athletes are ridiculed for being overpaid, mocked for their struggles and hated for their shortcomings. One minute, a player can be the the king of the world, loved by many. The next, that same athlete can be the target of pure venom, torrents of hateful words and threats.
It's as though athletes are viewed as characters, material objects meant only to entertain. Their problems don't matter because, hey, they have fame and, perhaps, fortune. And when it's addiction, something outsiders can't see or feel, it's all too easy to label the addict a loser, a failure or a degenerate and move along.
Ryan Leaf is a human being, just like the rest of us. He's a son, a brother, a nephew and a friend to many. He's not an object who performed for our entertainment. He's Ryan Leaf: An athletic gifted kid from Montana. His life is linked to athletics, for better or worse, but that doesn't change the fact he's as human as the rest of us.
Though Leaf's been in the spotlight his whole life, for better or worse, underneath it all he's still a person. The cocky persona and confidence that descended into arrogance was a shield, a front to keep people at arm's length. He's a person who has struggles and demons most will never understand.
There's no defending or excusing Leaf's actions, either past or present. I just hope he gets the help he needs and support as he continues to battle his addiction, before it's too late. I'll continue to support the man while rooting like hell for him to get it all together and come out the other end a better man.