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Revisiting Luke Heimlich’s fall from grace

in Op-Eds/Sports by

For a moment, imagine you are really good at baseball. Like really, really good. In fact, imagine that you are so good, that one of the best programs in college baseball has offered you a scholarship to come play at their institution. Now imagine being the best player on this team, which is now the best team in the country. Life seems pretty great then, right?

Now imagine losing all the glory, seemingly overnight.

If this is your story, your name is probably Luke Heimlich. The junior pitcher at Oregon State University was the centerpiece of one of the most unfortunate stories in college sports history that blew up earlier this June.

Heimlich attended Puyallup High School, a school with a strong baseball program near Tacoma, Wash. After being named Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Louisville Slugger All-American, Heimlich took his talents to Corvallis, Or. to play for the 2006 and 2007 College World Series Champion Oregon State Beavers.

After putting together two solid, but not spectacular, seasons at Oregon State, Heimlich broke out his junior season and was undoubtedly the best pitcher in college baseball. He went 11-1 and led the entire NCAA Division I in ERA by being the only pitcher to give up less than a single earned run per nine innings. He did not surrender a homerun, while striking out a whopping 128 batters in only 118 ⅓  innings of work.

To top things off, not only was Heimlich the best pitcher in college baseball, but he also played on the best team. The Beavers finished 56-6 overall while destroying Pac-12 opponents by going 27-3 in conference play. After week six, top polls unanimously placed the Beavers as the number one team in the country.

Oregon State was a shoo-in for the College World Series and Heimlich was predicted to be a first round draft pick by many MLB analysts and scouts. However, with only several days before both the Draft and the College World Series, a news story surfaced, saying that Heimlich was a felon convicted of sexually molesting a six-year-old girl when he was younger.

As a juvenile, Heimlich pleaded guilty to one count of sexual misconduct in 2011. As punishment, Heimlich was sentenced to probation for two years, during which time he participated in a sex offender program for two years. Additionally, he participated in personalized counseling. Heimlich has since been classified as the lowest level of sexual predator with the least likelihood of reoffending.

Once the news broke, many questioned how this would affect Heimlich’s draft stock, as many teams would be cautious to draft such a player with this type of history. Furthermore, some questioned the legitimacy of his status as a student-athlete, noting that both Oregon State University and the NCAA should ban felons, particularly those who have committed sexual crimes, from competing in intercollegiate athletics.

Heimlich pulled himself from the roster in order to divert attention away from the Beavers while they were competing for an NCAA championship. The team ended up being swept by LSU in the semifinals. As most expected, Heimlich went from a sure-fire first rounder to being undrafted in 2017.

The unfortunate part of this story is that everyone loses. Heimlich’s actions and any action similar to his is without question utterly unacceptable, and completely reprehensible. However, some might argue that Heimlich has been over-punished at this point, particularly as a first time offender. Some in the sports world believe that his actions of the past should not prevent him from pursuing his passion on the baseball field. Others argue that this type of crime should never merit a second chance, and that Heimlich’s pursuit of a baseball career should’ve been ended the minute he committed this heinous act.

I guess the issue is much broader. There is now a question that we as a society may need to answer more clearly: where do we draw the line? At what point do we give second chances, particularly to those who have committed crimes like Heimlich? We have already decided that sexual predators cannot have jobs working with young children, like being a school teacher or a bus drivers. The Adam Walsh Child and Protection Safety Act has placed heavy restrictions on registered sex offenders. But as we now see, the pursuit of becoming a professional athlete may need to be added to the list.

There is absolutely no justification for his actions. Sexual misconduct of any kind to any degree is beyond unacceptable and should always be punished accordingly. However, is there any room for forgiveness? This isn’t a question for me or for you, but for society as a whole.

How far can we punish Luke Heimlich before we become no better than he? Is there any grace we can grant Heimlich, seeing that he committed this crime as a minor?

Sexual misconduct of any nature is disgusting. The lives of two individuals in our world have been permanently changed, and not for the better. I think we can all hope that from here on out, both Heimlich and the victim can lead normal, quality lives as properly functioning members of society. I also hope that we as a society can more clearly define the restrictions we place on the lives of people like Luke Heimlich.

 

This is an op-ed. For the Phoenix’s policy on op-eds, please visit swarthmorephoenix.com/policies

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