Addiction Is A Disease

Originally published April 3rd, 2012

This is how I will always remember Ryan Leaf, as a young and brash quarterback with an attitude, and an arm that could have set records.  I started at Washington State University in 1992.  I got to experience Drew Bledsoe and the “Snow Bowl” first hand.  I watched and cheered Mike Pattinson before an injury gave us Chad Davis.  I put up with Chad Davis’ undersized and underwhelming tenure at QB waiting for the “Next Big Thing” at Quarterback U: Ryan Leaf. I saw Leaf lead the Cougs just shy of an Apple Cup win in 1995 at Husky Stadium.  In 1997, I stood on the field as players danced around me with roses in their mouths.  I’ve never seen a better quarterback than Ryan Leaf in college.  Sure, I’m blessed with crimson colored glasses, but Leaf’s swagger was something to see — I truly felt like we could win any game with him at quarterback.

It’s no secret that Ryan Leaf struggled in the pros.  He’s admitted later during interviews and even in his book 596 Switch that he wasn’t ready for the NFL.  He was good enough, but he just wasn’t mature enough.  Ryan Leaf flamed out in San Diego before moving to Dallas, and retiring with the Seattle Seahawks before the season.  His body was bruised and broken.  Leaf had lost the will and the skill to be successful in the NFL, and while Ryan left the NFL a millionaire, he also left as an addict.

According to the Great Falls Tribune in Montana, Ryan Leaf has been arrested this afternoon for burglary and theft of narcotics.  It’s Ryan’s second felony arrest for drugs since he left the NFL.  Unlike a lot of sports and celebrity drug arrests, Leaf’s had been for pain killers.  While the details from today’s arrest aren’t immediately available, it’s a safe assumption that Ryan was arrested after relapsing towards pain medication.  Today is one of those days that as a human being I shake my head — Not at Ryan Leaf, but at parts of society in general.

I’m an active Twitter guy.  There are plenty of days that I should really be doing something more productive with my time, but I like it.  Twitter adds a completely different look to being a sports fan. Right now in real time, I could have discussions and interact with millions of people around the world about anything.  Excited for baseball season?  Let’s talk.  NFL Draft?  Everyone’s got an opinion.  Social Media creates a completely different and accessible outlet for sports fans especially, but it also brings out the ugly.

Minutes after Leaf’s arrest was made public Twitter jumped.  Literally hundreds of tweets a minute.  Ryan Leaf was trending in less than a half hour and will likely be trending for the rest of the day.  And like most “trending” topics, the subject of Ryan Leaf brings out assholes.  I’m going to call it like I see it.  If you’re one of the guys that’s happy or laughing, or has some snide remark about his relapse, then you’re a dick.  It’s as cut and dry as that.  It’s one thing to have a productive opinion about a person or an event, it’s another to just pile on.  I will never understand it.  It doesn’t have to be Ryan Leaf.  It could be the President, a celebrity, or even someone’s mom.

If you want to talk about Ryan Leaf’s failure as a football player, go for it.  Ryan Leaf was horrible as a pro.  I’ve never defended his pro performance or his attitude.  (It wouldn’t have hurt if he’d had a better offensive line and/or receivers, but that’s a topic for a different day.)  If you want to talk about Ryan Leaf’s failures as a person, that’s OK too, but don’t revel in it.  Understand that at the end of the day, Ryan Leaf is an addict.  He’s an addict the same way that your brother could be — or your best friend — or if you had an alcoholic parent.  Addicts are all the same, whether they realize it or not.  It’s an everyday struggle, and without discipline and the right support, addicts are destined to fall, but it’s how they pick themselves up that will make the difference.

Over the last two years, Ryan Leaf has worked to pick himself up.  He came back home.  He realized that Washington State University alums and students were his family too.  We could forgive him for failing in the NFL and we could forgive him for struggling with sobriety.  He’s a Coug, he might as well be a brother.  WSU gave Ryan a support structure.  Watching him reconnect with the university has been great. I enjoyed his book.  It was thoughtful and honest.  It was great to hear Ryan on the radio across America. It started small, then moved to bigger arena’s like the Jim Rome Show.  Ryan Leaf was growing into the man we all wanted to see when he left WSU.

Did Ryan get comfortable?  Maybe Ryan felt like he’d finally beaten addiction.  Or maybe after years of his body taking a beating, he was just hurting.  Regardless, Ryan Leaf needs support right now.  Addiction isn’t a joke — Treating it as a joke on Twitter is truly sad.  Never been in Leaf’s place and feel like you’re a bigger and better person, that if you were in Ryan’s place you’d be able to beat addiction?  We’re all addicted to something.  Don’t believe me?  Turn off your phone. Turn off your computer.  Don’t check your Twitter.  It’s hard isn’t it?  Addiction is real.  Don’t be a dick about it.


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