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It wasn’t his poor performance on the field and inability to live up to the hype as a top NFL draft pick that drove Ryan Leaf to become addicted to painkillers.
It was the harsh reception at a boxing fight he received that started it all, the former quarterback said.
In 2004 — three years after his NFL career ended — Leaf was at a star-studded boxing bout in Las Vegas when “they announced Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Charles Barkley, Dr. Dre. The audience cheered and clapped. And then the MC there at the MGM Grand announced my name and the whole auditorium just booed and hissed,” Leaf, who has since recovered from substance abuse and now works for ESPN, said on the “Charges with Rex Chapman” podcast.
“And it’s not like that hadn’t happened before,” the 45-year-old said. “You’re playing football and you’re on the opposing team’s field. But you’re wearing armor. My addict brain heard, ‘Not only are you a terrible football player, but you are an awful human being.’”
That night in 2004 he was offered vicodin and mixed it with alcohol.
“I didn’t feel that judgment, I didn’t feel that fear, I didn’t feel that less than. I didn’t feel anything,” Leaf said. “I didn’t feel better but it turns out I was just searching for that feeling of not feeling any of the feelings that I had been feeling for so long. I just wanted to numb out. And, that night changed. … And that would be the next eight years of my life, chasing that initial high from that night of not feeling it.”
Leaf said on the podcast it was a Mike Tyson fight, but Tyson has not fought in Vegas since 1999.
Leaf was drafted with the No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Chargers, but flamed out of the league by 2001.
He began to turn his life around after hitting rock bottom in 2012, in prison after being arrested for felony burglary, theft and drug charges.
In October, Leaf admitted a admitted a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in relation to a separate incident, and was sentenced to three years probation.
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