Leaf's fall is a damn shame

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.


Despite how we have been painted, usually with regards to political matters, we Texans really are a MYOB crowd.

OK, we have a few judgmental blowhards.

Mostly, though, we like to leave folks alone just so long as whatever they do does not interfere with what we do. It is why when West Texans talk about Ryan Leaf’s most recent arrests — yes the “s” is necessary — the common reaction is “damn shame.”

Damn shame feels about right. We are talking about the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft being arrested Friday in Montana for breaking into the home of a friend and stealing prescription pain pills, being released after making bail, then breaking into another home of strangers Sunday in pursuit of the pills to which he is so desperately addicted.

Leaf is a junkie. And while there is sure to be some gleeful snickering about the continued slide of Leaf, I tend to agree that this is a damn shame. Wasting God-given talent for whatever reason is sad, and doing so because of drug addiction feels even more so.

Because of the proximity of these incidents to the upcoming NFL Draft and because this is what we do, Leaf is being used as a cautionary tale about how those we believe cannot miss often do. We look for deeper meaning and life lessons.

If anything, Leaf is a lesson for all of us on the importance of following our gut.

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People knew something did not feel right about Leaf. He did not show for the interview with the Indianapolis Colts at the combine. He had a rep as a punk. He showed up for workouts a little chubby and a lot out of shape.

There were red flags everywhere, and general managers — most notably Bobby Beathard in San Diego — ignored them because they wanted Leaf to work. They saw all of that talent, and they figured or hoped or just needed to believe Leaf would be different once in the league. They pushed their doubt aside.

“People always show you who they are. Listen.”

I first heard it from former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells as it relates to football players. Maya Angelou and Oprah have made that sentiment famous, but I doubt Parcells was paraphrasing them.

He was talking about a guy who showed up overweight at a workout. This was his job. It was his chance to make a first impression on bosses and what he is telling you is that he does not care. Do not be mad, Parcells explained. Listen.

It is great life advice, actually. It applies to the person you are dating, your boss, your buddy and, yes, your quarterback.

If a girlfriend cheats, that is who is she is.

If your boss never fights for you, that is who he is.

If your friend is constantly flaking on plans, that is who he is.

And if the guy you want to draft in the first round has baggage, it is coming with him.

The lesson from Parcells was not that people cannot change but, rather, do not be surprised if they do not. Be OK with dealing with whatever it is forever. Do not sit around waiting for the person to change simply because that is what you want.

It is good counsel as the NFL Draft approaches — and as good of a lesson as we can hope to get from this Leaf mess.

Maybe, Leaf would still be breaking into houses in Montana in search of drugs if NFL general managers had listened to their guts and let him slide in the draft. Maybe, this drug addiction has no connection to the problems that caused him to wash out of the league after four years and make him arguably the biggest bust in NFL history.

Or maybe, this is who he is.

It is a damn shame either way. Addiction has to be miserable.

And if we are going to cheer for guys like Josh Hamilton, we need to save a little of that sympathy for Leaf and random addicts.

Of course, it does not work that way.

Our sympathies usually extend as far as a guy’s career, and once he has stopped producing, then we stop being sympathetic. Leaf had so few friends even when he was playing, a product of his attitude and his failure. He was, by all accounts, a gigantic ass. The thing is, to listen to the West Texans tell it, by the time he arrived out there he had been humbled. He was a pretty good quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, too.

Right until he started using drugs again.

He was arrested in Texas in 2008 and eventually pleaded guilty to breaking into the home of a West Texas A&M player and stealing prescription medication. He looked to have righted himself after this, disappearing from view until recently.

Now we have two arrests in four days in Montana.

And while it is a cautionary tale about listening when people tell you who they are, more than anything it is a damn shame.

You can follow Jen Engel on Twitter, email her or like her on Facebook.

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