Tom Rinaldi knows there will be skeptics. He expects some cynics who doubt that this is the time, finally, when Ryan Leaf has cleaned up his act for good.
“I would never begrudge anyone for taking a cynical eye toward Ryan, and I don’t think he would, either,” said Rinaldi, the host of ESPN’s E:60 profile of Leaf.
The profile will air at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and a 90-minute special will air at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and will include interviews with former Washington State coach Mike Price, Leaf’s mother and his prison cellmate.
Count Rinaldi a believer in Leaf, who he saw working with recovering addicts in New York City while filming the episode.
“As soon as you hear him speak in that setting he’s absolutely compelling, because he’s so honest, and self-critical and unsparing,” Rinaldi said. “Because how are you going to fool a group of people who are trying to enter recovery? They are going to detect whether you’re honest with them or not.”
The E:60 profiles were over a year in the making, in part because Leaf was deeply concerned about the effect some of the interviews and public revelations would have on his family.
Leaf’s mother shares that police once told her Leaf would have to go to jail, and she replied “Good.” Ryan Leaf tells the story of how his prison cellmate made him realize, for the first time, that other people are as important as he is.
The former Heisman Trophy finalist at WSU and No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL draft has appeared to turn over a new leaf in the past, only to again screw up, robbing houses for painkillers or getting kicked out of his drug treatment program.
Now Leaf is trying to make some good out of those mistakes, working with addicts as part of Transcend, a recovery community. He knows there will be those who doubt whether the new Leaf will last, and he’s not going to tell them they are wrong.
“I’ll give you his answer, which is we only know about today. That’s his answer,” Rinaldi said. “There’s no great pledge that he will never backslide toward addiction, and he’s the first voice in the piece to address and enunciate that. It’s something he has to address every single day. And he feels he’s built a structure in his life to address why those relapses happened in the past.”