Last spring, I posted an ethics quiz about Luke Heimlich:
Luke Heimlich is a rising college baseball star pitcher at Oregon State, and may well have a future in Major League Baseball. There is a problem though: Heimlich, 22, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting his 6-year-old niece when he was 15 years old. The further complication: he denies that he committed the crime, which was not just one incident but a pattern over two years. He told The New York Times that he only pleaded guilty to ” for the sake of family relations.” “Nothing ever happened,” he told the paper. The girl’s mother, however, says there is no question that he was guilty.”
The question then was whether Heimlich should be allowed to play college baseball. I wrote,
” what does it say about this man’s character that he pleaded guilty to get a lenient deal, and now blandly says that he was lying? I’d view him as more trustworthy if he admitted the crime, was remorseful and repentant, and accepted responsibility. If he did molest the girl, and still denies it, one can hardly say that he has been rehabilitated…”
I’m not sure I was firing on all cylinders when I wrote that, though. He pleaded guilty because that was, by far, the least risky course: I might have advised him to whether he was guilty or not. If he wasn’t guilty, then he’s telling the truth now about “lying” to avoid a harsher sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
Meanwhile, the reader poll results indicated a strong majority favoring letting the pitcher get on with his life, and his baseball career.
And now, the rest of the story…
All 30 major league teams passed on drafting or signing Heimlich, though the Kansas City Royals considered it last year but were intimidated by public backlash.
Now a team in the Mexican League has signed the left-hander, who can throw his fastball 94 miles per hour. Heimlich still says he is innocent and his criminal record has been expunged. Nevertheless, his alleged victim’s family and victim activists are trying to pressure his new team, will be able to stick with his new team, the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos, into dropping him. Indeed, the Mexican League, which is affiliated with Minor League Baseball and is considered Class AAA, has rejected players with past conduct like doping and gambling.
“The player has to have irreproachable conduct and be a good representative of the team and the league,” says a Mexican League spokesperson. “Like any league, we have to verify that all of our entrants have good conduct. We are an example to a lot of boys and girls. And we have to protect the image of the league.”
That’s fine, but even if he was guilty, Heimlich’s crime occurred when he was a minor. That’s the key fact here. After he plea, the pitcher registered for five years as a Level 1 sex offender, a designation the State of Washington uses for someone considered of low risk to the community who is unlikely to become a repeat offender. His juvenile records are sealed.
Brenda Tracy, a t prominent victims’ rights activists, who frequently speaks about sexual abuse in sports and on college campuses, argues, it seems, that the pitcher’s misconduct when he was 15 should restrict his right to the pursuit of happiness forever, telling the New York Times,
“Because someone is giving him a so-called second chance, it is paving the way for a team in Major League Baseball to sign him. They will say, ‘Mexico signed him, so we are not the only ones, we were not the first ones to do this,’ and that is wrong. It is ignoring the victim, and it is wrong. As I’ve said before, second chances do not have to include playing sports, especially pro sports, because in our society, we put these athletes up on a pedestal.”
That’s interesting: I was not aware of the sports exception to paying one’s debt to society, special conditions of leniency for minors, and the right to have second chances in a democracy. Detroit Tigers star Ron LaFlore had been a heroin addict and ultimately served prison time for armed robbery. He honed his baseball skills while in the pen, and ultimately was hailed as a wonderful example of rehabilitation when he became a baseball star. They even made a movie about him. I don’t recall anyone saying that LaFlore was a corrupting influence on kids.
The opposition to Heimlich at this point is pure vindictiveness and hate. Let him play.