Editorial: Ryan Leaf's comeback is heartening. Second chances should be the American way.

The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

Young people make mistakes all the time. But when they make criminal mistakes, even some serious ones, their lives should not be thrown aside. Second chances should be given. This belief is why The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has advocated for years for criminal-justice reforms.

And it's why, while some San Diegans may still resent his on-field performance, we find the story of Ryan Leaf to be heartening. The then-San Diego Chargers drafted the star college quarterback with the overall No. 2 pick in the 1998 draft -- behind Peyton Manning -- only to have him become one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history. After four years of ham-handed, knuckle-headed behavior, Leaf spiraled into drug addiction and a 32-month prison stint for a felony burglary conviction. At 43, his comeback is complete. He has traveled the nation to talk about substance abuse, worked as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network and co-hosted a Pac-12 show on SiriusXM. Now he's been hired by ESPN to work as a college football analyst this coming season.

Five years ago, sitting in a prison cell, Leaf never could have imagined having the job he has now: "If you would have told me that, I would have said you are absolutely crazy. And I can't believe it. I lay my head down every night with a ton of gratitude."

Many former prisoners with fewer privileges than Leaf -- especially young minority men who grew up in difficult circumstances -- also deserve second chances. It should be seen as the American way.


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