Ryan Leaf was a college sensation. He was the number two draft pick, but never got his career off the ground. Essentially, he hit a brick wall once he joined the NFL. Then, things spiraled out of control into drug use and mental health challenges.
Leaf is not the only NFL player to get sucked into that vortex. Vincent Jackson is the latest to fall into public view, tragically losing his life at only 38 years old. Junior Seau was one of the best linebackers to play the game, and he took his own life at 43. Playing in the NFL, it seems, can do irreparable damage to one’s body and mind.
Yet the NFL has failed again and again to do anything about it.
Remember CTE? The NFL did anything and everything it could to silence the doctors trying to bring this pertinent issue to the forefront. It has attempted empty gestures of changing rules and adding a “concussion tent” on to the sidelines to evaluate players in the moment. But its protocols are weak and don’t do anything to get at the cause. They simply want to play defense for as long as possible.
Until the player retires, and then it’s not their problem anymore.
Mental Health has stigma attached to it, unfortunately. We must continue to normalize it and understand there are ways to help. Now, imagine being someone who plays their career running as fast as they can into a wall of other humans. Literally using your own body to cut others down. That takes a toll on your body. But, based on what we’ve seen in many players later in life, when the game is behind them, it also takes a serious toll on the mind.
Ryan Leaf was able to pull himself out of the dark place he plunged into following his troubles in the NFL. He is sober, a father, and a football analyst for Sirius XM. And everything he is saying about the NFL, the ‘shield’, is correct. They don’t care about the people. They only care about the brand.
The NFL needs to listen to Leaf, and allow him to help usher them into a new age. Many NFL alumni need help. Help that is scarce and unlikely for them to receive. If the NFL really cares about its own people, and not just about the brand and the dollar signs, it must take up a new initiative and it must do it now.
Ryan Leaf sounds willing and able to help lead the charge.
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