Every year when the NFL draft rolls around, the name Ryan Leaf comes up. He’s universally considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. An episode of NFL Top 10 even ranked him at #1. Interpretation: he’s among a select group of players who came into the draft with loads of potential but went on to fail “at the top of his voice” . . . in the most visible and indisputable ways.
Leaf had a successful college career at Washington State University, where he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy his junior year. He was selected as the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, but his career was short and interrupted by poor play, bad behavior and injuries. He struggled with his work ethic and his ability to stay focused. After his NFL career ended, Leaf had drug-related legal troubles. A Texas judge sentenced him to 10 years probation in 2010. Two years later, Leaf pleaded guilty to felony burglary and drug possession in Montana. After a suspended sentence and a stint in drug rehab, Leaf began serving a seven-year sentence in state prison in December 2012. He was later sentenced to five years in prison for breaking into a home in Montana to steal prescription drugs in violation of his Texas probation. He was released from prison in December of 2014.
What went wrong? Leaf said his problems began long before he swallowed his first Vicodin. He points to isolation, telling ESPN, “Some of the most successful and talented people are some of the loneliest because they isolate so much.” Even as a high school quarterback in Montana, stardom brought isolation.
My friend Benj talks about the way men isolate themselves and how every guy needs a ‘plus one’ . . . one other guy who knows everything about you and who’ll tell you the truth. Plus one.
It’s hard to stay isolated when you live in a jail cell with someone else. Fortunately for Ryan Leaf, his cellmate turned out to be his plus one. He encouraged Leaf to start thinking about someone other than himself. Leaf started teaching other inmates to read and his life started to change. He’s now sober, out of jail and involved with Transcend, a non-profit residential recovery community with homes in Los Angeles, New York and Houston.
People often mention Peyton Manning when talking about Ryan Leaf. Manning was drafted #1 in 1998, the pick right before Leaf. As you probably know, Manning went on to a stellar career with two Super Bowls, multiple NFL records and (someday) the Hall of Fame. Living in Manning’s shadow and the image of what might have been adds even more shame and guilt to Leaf’s story. But bringing his shame and guilt out or the dark and into the light has helped Leaf move beyond his past. “The more and more I talk about it” he says, “I think it takes away that power away of shame and guilt.”
Ryan Leaf’s story is a powerful example of life change, but what does it mean for you? Here’s two questions and a challenge:
- Who is your Peyton Manning? – Who is it that got what you wanted? What you thought you were going to get? Is there some person or group of people you don’t measure up to? Someone who’s surpassed you career wise? Does he have a prettier wife? Was he more special to your dad than you were? You need a plus one to share those feelings with.
- Who is your plus one? – Do you have a plus one? Is there at least one person you aren’t isolated from? Someone who knows your dark corners . . . your last 10%? Someone who’ll call you and ask, “Where are you?” “What are you doing?” “What are you thinking?” “What are you thinking about doing?”
Challenge: Will you make Jesus your plus one? – Every man absolutely needs an earthly plus one to walk through life with. But we also need to make Jesus our ever-present plus one! Our Heavenly Father is waiting for us to share how we feel about ourselves . . . our guilt, our shame. He’s ‘over’ our sin and shame and He wants us to be too. He wants us to pour out our feelings to Him so we can be restored and free.
Scripture: One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend. (Proverbs 22:11)
Mentor Tip: Make it your goal that every mentee leaves your group knowing who their plus one is . . . knowing which other man he will continually and fully confide in and who’ll hold him close and accountable.