Friends speak out for Ryan Leaf

A SURVEY THIS WEEK of some of Ryan Leaf's friends, former teammates, colleagues, coaches and teachers has yielded an outpouring of understanding about the insidious nature of addiction and an even bigger outpouring of support and goodwill for the former Washington State All-American in his struggles.

Discussions and text message exchanges with people who know Leaf well paint a picture of the man and the situation that is enlightened and supportive.

There is profound sadness in what is being learned about the old quarterback's apparent relapse with prescription painkillers. But there is also consensus that what he needs is support rather than criticism.

Here's some of what they had to say:

Eric Price, former WSU assistant coach: "My family and I have always had faith in Ryan. He has done a lot for the Cougs and also for my Dad. I believe he will get through this and come out a winner in life."

Chris Hayes, former WSU and NFL linebacker and Leaf teammate: "A lot of people don't understand addiction or how damaging it can be. As a former NFL player, I can say without hesitation that painkiller addiction is something to guard against. Professional athletes are faced with physical, as well as mental and spiritual, challenges on a daily basis, both during their careers and afterward ... If there's a positive in this, it's the public awareness to the dangers of painkillers that Ryan's case raises. Ryan is a good man, a colleague, and brother on the gridiron. I'm proud to vouch for his character. This is about addiction, not character.

Glenn Johnson, Murrow College professor and Mayor of Pullman: "I really believe that Ryan was serious about turning his life around. I saw a change in him when he came back to WSU after San Diego and earned his BA. He was in my management class and was a dedicated student. I saw an even better change after he did his drug rehab -- he looked more relaxed, physically fit, and some may not believe it, but he was humble. He readily admitted his past problems and, I believe, wanted to make changes in his life for the better. I was saddened by what happened in Great Falls over the weekend. While this addiction to prescription drugs is a national problem, we usually are not exposed to it unless a public figure is arrested. Ryan is the public figure and the press has had a field day pouring it on this 35-year-old former athlete. I'm sad for Ryan and his family and I only hope he can get help to fight this serious addiction.

Rod Commons, retired WSU sports information director: "I am heartbroken for Ryan and his family. Just about everyone in the medical profession I've talked to stresses how hard it is to break the addiction. We see it regularly in the entertainment field. What Ryan needs now is support from all Cougs. He is one of us and needs our support now more than ever. Hang in their friend. You CAN beat this."


Chris Jackson, former WSU and AFL receiver, and Leaf teammate: "I'm almost at a loss for words. I wish he would have confided in one of us -- family or his many friends in the Cougar Nation -- to help him. I texted him on Friday and told him I don't know the details and don't need to the know the details, that he's always been like family to me and he always will no matter what. Right now, I'm just keeping him in my prayers ... This is part of life, and through these trials you build perseverance and become stronger. This could be one of the best things that could have happened ... One of the most worrisome parts about this is these painkillers I'm reading about. Oxycodone has heroin in it. The next step in the progression, if the addiction isn't controlled, is using heroin itself. That's a scary, scary place to think my friend might have been headed toward."

Dave Muir, former WSU quarterback and Leaf teammate: "I've known Ryan through the highs and lows and everything in between, and if all that we're reading out of Montana is true then his addiction has completely taken control. Given how well he'd been doing these last couple of years I can't help but think the brain tumor and the treatment for the brain tumor are critical to all this. Here's a guy who is addicted to painkillers having his skull opened up and a surgery performed, and then later undergoing many weeks of what I know was near-debilitating radiation treatment. That's a lot for any person to deal with, let alone someone recovering from painkiller addiction. I can't understand why more news reports aren't focused on this aspect … This is a time for Ryan's friends and fans to rally around him, not turn their backs or pass judgment. He's always been there for me. He's an amazing person who happens to be fighting addiction ... This is a tough time. I really feel for his family -- they are great people, his parents and brothers. We all need to help him, and them, get through this."

Paul Sorensen, former WSU and NFL safety, and former WSU radio colorman: "I am so sad for him and his family -- I'm almost physically sick about it. This addiction will kill him if not dealt with. I hope and pray Ryan can overcome this. Recovery from any addition -- alchohol, gambling, painkillers ... -- is a very difficult road. I know Ryan can do it with the proper treatment and support ... This past week has really shown us what a brutal game football is. Ryan's troubles began with a wrist injury that led to dependence on painkillers. And Mark Rypien is suffering from bouts of memory loss due to the concussions he sustained in pro ball. This game takes a brutal toll on people, and these two Cougar icons are proof."

Barry Bolton, Managing Editor: "It's a tragedy. It speaks to how wicked a disease like addiction is -- how it can envelop an individual, sometimes even years later and when everything seems to be going well. Ryan is a good guy with a huge heart, it hurts to see what's transpired. A key point that has gone begging in all of this is to what degree the tumor on his brain stem, and the subsequent surgery and treatments, were complicit. I have to believe it played a decisive role. He was awfully sick for eight weeks, even longer than that, actually. And when you're that sick, you're not going to have the willpower just to get up and move around at times, let alone to try to battle an addiction."

John McDonnell, former WSU assistant coach and lead recruiter on Ryan: "I'm obviously saddened by the news. The most important thing now is moving toward the road to recovery. Ryan is a talented man -- with everyone's help and support he can overcome this and lead a happy and prosperous life."


Notes of disclosure:
- The writer of this column is a friend of Ryan Leaf's and the co-author with Leaf of the book 596 Switch.
- Ryan Leaf has been a columnist for this website over the last two years.


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