Sport Ryan Leaf reflects on privilege, skewers high school coach on 'Bust' podcast about his life
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Ryan Leaf no longer runs from "bust," the term that came to define him and his failed career as an NFL quarterback. He has embraced it.
"Bust: The Ryan Leaf Story" is a 10-episode podcast in which Leaf fills in the gaps of his well-chronicled story with anecdotes, insights and one brutal character assessment.
In the first two episodes, available online, Leaf says the following:
- His former high school football coach was the most giant jerk you can imagine.
- Black football players at Washington State got kicked off the team for the same behavior Leaf committed without consequences.
- Leaf spent time in a limo with Warren Sapp and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson the night he got drunk as a 17-year-old recruit at the University of Miami.
Leaf, 45, said it all without regrets, he told USA TODAY Sports this week.
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"I went into this room and kind laid it all out on the line," he said of taping the podcast. "This is an incredibly raw and uncensored approach."
Future episodes will focus on Leaf’s addiction to painkillers, which led to almost three years in prison. He said he has been sober for almost 10 years, and his recovery is the primary reason he did the podcast.
"In the hopes that somebody out there who’s still struggling will hear something they can relate to and it can help them overcome," he said. "Or it can guide them through a difficult time in their life."
As Leaf explains on his podcast, his troubles date back two generations, to his alcoholic grandfather and how Leaf’s mother covered up the man’s behavior.
But Leaf’s public unraveling began after he was selected with the second overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 NFL draft. His NFL career lasted just three seasons, with Leaf throwing 36 interception and 14 touchdowns.
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He said he intends to alter the narrative for those who view him as nothing but a bust.
"I made it to the NFL from Montana," Leaf told USA TODAY Sports. "No one’s ever done that. So it’s also a story of how to get it done too, right?"
Originally, Leaf said, he pitched his life story to networks such as HBO, Showtime and ESPN-plus as a docuseries. Despite some interest, Leaf said, the project never materialized.
Then, Leaf said, while playing golf during the pandemic, he met Kevin Connolly, the actor best known for his role at the "Entourage."
Connolly now produces podcasts through his company, ActionPark Media, and eventually he teamed up to produce "Bust" with Leaf and Leaf’s partner, Anne Kleinsorge, the mother of Leaf’s 4-year-old son.
They taped the 10 episodes over the past year, with the podcast debuting Nov. 15 and a new episode set to come out every Tuesday.
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"I realized quickly that sports was just a backdrop," Connelly told USA TODAY Sports. "It’s a mental health podcast."
Referring to Leaf’s work in recovery from addiction and mental health issues, Connelly said, "The ironic thing is what he’s doing for people post-football is more powerful than anything he could have done on the football field."
Which is not to say the podcast is full of Zen, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises. The first two episodes of "Bust" have more than a few memorable moments.
Leaf says his high school coach was a legend in Montana but was a huge jerk.
In one film session after a disappointing loss, Leaf recalls, the coach was "just ripping me a (expletive) new one." Eventually, Leaf says, he stood up in front of his teammates and asked why they couldn’t run the shotgun.
"Leaf," the quarterback recalls his coaching firing back, "the only shotgun you’ll ever see is the shotgun pointed from the sideline if you ask for that (expletive) again."
Jack Johnson, Leaf’s former high school coach, chuckled when told of what Leaf said about him.
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"That doesn’t bother me," said Johnson, who denied making a comment about a shotgun. "Physically, he was a talented kid. Mentally, sometimes he struggled with some emotional problems. Not for us. In high school, he was good. He had no problem being a competitor. He wanted to win."
In his school, Leaf says, "I would walk into parties with a six-pack of 7-Up and I thought I was like morally superior to everybody because of it."
That changed when Leaf visited the University of Miami as a 17-year-old recruit. Leaf says his host was Bryce Erickson, son of then-Miami Dennis Erickson, and the night started at Dan Marino’s Bar & Grille.
Leaf’s first drink: rum-and-Coke.
"I drank two of those and I’m like throwing up," he says.
Later, he says, he ended up in a limo with Warren and Dwayne Johnson, the former Miami Hurricanes player who’d yet to be the famous actor better known as "The Rock."
"We party all night long and go back to the hotel and they frickin’ take me into the hotel room, they cut lines in my eyebrows for being a West Coaster. You know, East Coast, West Coast."
Leaf’s addiction to painkillers led to his being incarcerated in 2012 and he says his problems can be traced back to his maternal grandfather, who was an alcoholic who "embarrassed the family."
Leaf said his mother assumed responsibility for keeping his grandfather’s embarrassing behavior hidden from the outside world.
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"That’s where it started for me in terms of like hiding," Leaf says, "not sharing vulnerability, presenting the Instagram world to everybody else, like this perfect world that exists and not all the boils and scars and things that real humans are."
Leaf said he always had two offensive linemen by his side when he cruised across campus in Pullman, Washington.
"I was big man on campus," he says. "We’d step in the room and I’d be like, ‘OK, we’re here to take your chicks and drink your beer and get out. … I was the quintessential '80s villain."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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