In an increasingly polarized world, a host of issues are viewed in black and white – our President, climate control, abortion, to name a few. One issue may stand out above all others: sex abuse.
Luke Heimlich, a left handed pitcher for Oregon State, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of molesting his 6-year-old niece when he was 15 years old. Heimlich, 22, was expected to be a high draft pick as a junior last year, but all 30 MLB teams passed after his guilty plea was reported by The Oregonian days before the draft. After the disclosure, Heimlich withdrew from the team and sat out the College World Series. He returned this year, leading the Beavers to the CWS title. Again he went undrafted, although any organization is free to sign him as a free agent.
Many survivors of sex abuse, including Brenda Tracy, a survivor of a gang rape, are adamantly opposed to giving Heimlich a chance at a MLB career. According to Tracy, signing Heimlich would be the equivalent of “normalizing and minimizing” what he pled guilty to.
Few of us can relate to what Tracy experienced and is still experiencing, but allowing someone a second chance is not the equivalent of “normalizing” or “minimizing” their crime. It’s called mercy, one of the traits that distinguishes humans from animals.
Heimlich has been compared to Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar. I’m not a medical professional but research confirms that comparing the mental and emotional development of a 15-year old to an adult is a false scientific analogy.
Heimlich has fulfilled the conditions of his sentence and by all accounts has been a model citizen and teammate. Should he also be denied the opportunity for a career in sports? If Heimlich wanted to be an accountant, would we deny him the right to pursue his profession or make a living? Should the fact that an accountant toils in obscurity and an athlete performs in the public eye determine whether someone is allowed to pay their debt to society and pursue their dreams or receives a lifetime sentence? Should we focus on rehabilitation or perpetual punishment?
For what it’s worth, Heimlich has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the case. He says he took the plea deal to avoid possible jail time and spare his family – including his 6-year old niece – further pain and embarrassment from the publicity of a trial.
If Heimlich were to join a Major League organization, he would start in the minors and move up through the system. At every stop along the way his past would be recounted in the media and fans would have an opportunity to voice their opinions, inside and outside the ballpark. They could also speak with their pocketbooks by either attending or boycotting the games.
MLB can avoid the issue altogether by not signing Heimlich. By so doing, they would also be taking a stand, one that’s just as extreme as Tracy’s: Denying Heimlich a chance at a career in professional baseball.
I know what this former prosecutor’s decision would be. What’s yours?
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.