In light of the NFL Draft, check out this moving piece from the no. 2 pick from 1998–Ryan Leaf. It’s a letter he wrote this week to his younger self: the 21-year-old kid who was just drafted by the Chargers, who doesn’t know that he’s about to become one of the biggest draft busts in history, about to flee from his shame into a prescription drug addiction, about to spend 32 months in prison for breaking and entering a neighbor’s home to score pills.
The part that moved me the most was his reflection on how the media narrative around who would be the no. 1 pick pushed him to become someone he wasn’t:
“Peyton is clean-cut. His dad played in the NFL. He comes from a well-respected football family. And with everybody talking about you vs. Peyton, you started to feel like people wanted you to be something different. That they wanted you to be a little more brash. Maybe a little cocky. So between the time you left Washington State and draft day, something shifted inside you. You became what you thought people wanted you to be instead of being who you really are.
The Ryan Leaf the world has seen throughout the NFL draft process and the one they’re about to see treating reporters and teammates like shit as a professional is not the real Ryan Leaf. The real Ryan Leaf is not a narcissist, or a criminal, or a drug addict.
The real Ryan Leaf is strong, empathetic and self-aware. He understands that there’s more to life than money, power and prestige. The real Ryan Leaf is comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him, as long as he feels good about himself.
That Ryan Leaf is somewhere inside you. But you’ve buried him so far down that this other persona you’re building up is going to have to get so far out of control that it will take something drastic for you to dig deep and bring out the real you.”
Read the whole piece here.