If you could write a letter to your younger self, when would you schedule it to arrive, and what would it say?
I would wager that most of us would surely address our teenage or early-twenties selves. After all, there is something formative about the years when we enter adulthood. It’s the time when we really start to establish who we are, and where our decisions have consequences that last a lifetime. For some of us, we’d probably have some general words of wisdom, maybe some encouragement that would help lift our spirits during a tumultuous stage of life.
For others, it would be a dire warning:
The sad thing is, a good many live lives that are just that, a warning to others. Their letter might just be a bit more tragic:
That’s you, young Ryan Leaf, at his absolute finest: arrogant, boorish and narcissistic. You think you’re on top of the world and that you’ve got all the answers.
Well I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the truth is….
You don’t know shit.
Ryan Leaf was riding high on April 18, 1998. He had just finished a wildly successful career at Washington State, setting a conference record for touchdown passes and leading the Cougs to their first Rose Bowl berth since 1931, and was now the number two pick overall in the NFL Draft, behind only one Peyton Manning (you might have heard of him).
Leaf’s NFL career was a dud almost from the moment he took the field for the San Diego Chargers. He would be plagued with injury and consistently underperform his admittedly high expectations. While his draft rival’s star would rise, his would fall. Hard.
April 2, 2012
Leaf is arrested after midnight and returned to county jail. He now faces three counts of felony drug possession, two counts of felony burglary and two counts of misdemeanor theft. He appeared via video conference before Judge Dirk Sandefur at Cascade County District Court. He remains held in county jail after the Department of Corrections placed a 72-hour no-bond hold on him, which was subsequently extended to 30 days.
And that was the last I’d heard from him, his life being an utter trainwreck of disappointment. And it was the last I’d thought I would hear from him.
As a WSU alum who watched the guy play in person, I remember how brightly his star shined on the hills of the Palouse. He and coach Mike Price were rock stars in that sleepy college town, and among the Cougar nation. The next in a line of great quarterbacks that numbered Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, and Drew Bledsoe in its ranks, and the redeemer of a WSU football program that was for a lifetime an also-ran, he had become himself an also-ran.
And it would come to pass that this also-ran, this fallen star, would find his redemption:
But I’m kind of glad things worked out the way they did. I know that sounds cliché, but if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything. Not even the decisions that took me to rock bottom. I would want everything to be exactly the same, because today, I’m happy with my life and with who I am.
Ryan Leaf found his purpose. It is, in part, to be a warning for others. A caution against the arrogance of youth, the pride that comes with talent and stardom, and the destructive path of substance abuse.
So what’s in your letter? As someone who hasn’t had much in the way of life tragedy, and whose meandering path of life has been a happy one, its understandable I wouldn’t want to change a thing. That someone like Ryan Leaf would say the same is profound.