Revisiting Luke Heimlich’s fall from grace

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

6 comments

  1. 0
    tanya says:

    Luke is a disgusting human being. This isn’t a pot charge or shoplifting. HE MOLESTED his 6 year old niece. That is a sign of something terrible within him. We all know sexual predators can’t be rehabilitated. I have zero respect for the powers that be at OSU! What idiots keep a convicted felon on the college baseball team? What have we come to? He needs to GO and so do all the other people that have kept him on. Just like everything else in the world today, there are no morals backing anything. As a society we do what we want and know that no type of punishment (which used to help wake people up) just allows people to do whatever they feel, to whoever they feel, with no repercussions. It is truly disgusting. Where are his parents now? Wy don’t they come forth and say that they “made him confess”!!!!

  2. 0
    Jonathan says:

    Good piece. I personally do feel sorry for Heimlich, not because I also don’t feel sorry for the victim (of course!), but for the reasons you stated. Unacceptable and as you correctly state disgusting crimes need to be punished, but in my opinion if you’re going to punish the person and then say no matter how long they live, they can’t ever have the life they deserve (a great pitcher who in the eyes of the law has done his penance), then why not just forget about the justice system? Why not just say, yeah alright, he committed this crime, let’s go ahead and just execute him. I mean seriously, what’s the difference? Is he supposed to retreat into the mountains and live off the land, hunting for his food and growing some crops, maybe build himself a log cabin and gradually become a yeti? I don’t understand the illogical response that is rooted in pure emotionalism of this idea that people cannot possibly change. Historically, and there is massive evidence to corroborate this, minors committing sex crimes like this are the least likely to reoffend. It’s a completely different story for me if a guy who is 30 years old rapes 6 women, then he’s caught, and we’re asking if he deserves a second chance. Uhh… yeah, maybe when he’s about 60, he can get a second chance, but for the sake of society lock the dude up and throw away the key pretty much. When you’re talking about a guy who has since his conviction by all accounts been an upstanding citizen and member of the community, and who went through quite a lot of punishment (rightfully so) in the years following the conviction, I think you have to ask what is gained or what’s the reasoning behind him being, let’s say, permanently disallowed from pursuing his chosen career. Is he a threat to, against all psychological evidence to the contrary, molest his fellow teammates? That sounds pretty ridiculous doesn’t it. I mean, if he were working at Walmart, wouldn’t he be just as likely to repeat offend? So why should he not be able to play baseball? For a Christian society — a religion that teaches forgiveness from sin — it sure is a society bent on ending your life once you ever do something wrong, no matter whether you served your time or not. I noticed the same thing with Michael Vick. And god forbid you ever suggest these people deserve a second chance *once they serve their time* because suddenly you are labeled as some sort of supporter of these heinous acts. Hey, I’m disgusted by what Michael Vick did, I think it’s unconscionable. I am disgusted by what Luke did. That being said, thinking logically, I think the reason we have a justice system is to return people to society (when the crime is not serious enough for “life in prison” or death sentence) and let them have a second chance, after having paid their debt, right? That was the idea, at least. I find it especially interesting that I would bet way more people are ok with a drunk driver who killed a family of 4 in a car accident serving time in prison, whatever that may be, and then re-entering society. Even though he ended 4 lives. To me, there should be more outrage over drunken drivers then there is. I know one of them hit me, totaled my car, and hit another car and totaled that one, too, fled the scene (a freeway) and was caught driving a car that wasn’t his, without a license, and without insurance. He got a $1,000 fine and 24 hours in jail, I’m not joking. He could have easily killed several people, it was a miracle nobody was seriously injured, but “oh well, nobody died, so you go spend one night in jail!” Nobody seems all up and arms over that type of situation, for some reason. But yeah let’s go ahead and grab the pitchforks and make sure the greatest college pitcher can’t go make $100 million in the Major Leagues one day and pay tens of millions in taxes. Alrighty then. No, sorry, using my brain and not just my emotions, I want Luke to be the highest contributing member of society he can be, since he paid his debt to society and deserves that chance in a first world country.

  3. 0
    Jodie Goodman says:

    “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?”

    So I’ll explain. The question of forgiveness is up to each individual survivor and “Society as a whole” (like that monolith exists) should basically follow their lead. You can’t forgive someone for a crime against another person (unless I guess, maybe you’re Jesus? I don’t know) and have that judgment hold any real moral weight/relevance. Like if someone punches you and I’m like, don’t worry about it bro I forgive you, your face is still punched and you’re probably not feeling so forgiveness-y. And as long as the punishments don’t literally involve committing a non consensual sexual act, the survivor/victim isn’t ever morally equivalent to their abuser and that’s a kind of gross suggestion in the first place. I can think all child molesters deserve to be crushed by asteroids and I’m still not morally equivalent to a child molester. I wish he had to spend 100 years in jail- still not a child molester!
    Can the author go see someone in the philosophy department about this?

  4. 0
    Jodie Goodman says:

    Is it worth the clicks to publish “edgy” garbage like this? This isn’t even an opinion article, it’s sports news. I really think a responsible editor would have redirected the author of this piece toward almost anything else.

  5. 0
    ??? says:

    So what kind of punishment do we think is appropriate for a 15 year old who molested his six year old cousin?

    A 2 year slap on the wrist sounds good to you?

    We really think we should let him be an idol to little boys who love baseball?

    Asking for a friend.

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