Heimlich

Luke Heimlich on the mound looking towards home plate as Beaver fans watch.

Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board and are separate from reporting or letters to the editor. 

Winning a game should never be more important than what is morally right. Therefore, every time Oregon State University pitcher Luke Heimlich, an admitted sex offender, is allowed to play, our moral character as a community is called into question.

Last year, The Oregonian first reported that Heimlich was charged with two counts of molestation in 2011, when he was 15 years old. The child was his six-year-old niece.

In exchange for pleading guilty, the court dropped one of the charges, The New York Times reported. Heimlich completed two years of probation and court-ordered rehabilitation classes, and was registered as a Level 1 sex offender for five years.

When he came to OSU in 2014, Heimlich was required by Oregon law to register as a sex offender, which he did. However, he failed to provide updates with Benton County authorities. When his record became public knowledge, it sparked a national controversy over whether or not he belongs on the team.

In June of this year, the Beavers returned to Goss Stadium to celebrate their third national championship in 12 years. Play-by-play announcer Mike Parker gave speeches for all seniors and drafted players in the club. When he asked Heimlich to stand and be recognized, fans’ repeated frenzied chants of “Luke” echoed through the walls of Goss and the soul of Beaver Nation. 

Correction: An earlier version misidentified the man shaking Luke Heimlich's hand in the photo as Mike Riley, but it is actually Mike Parker.

Heimlich at celebration

Heimlich going to shake Mike Parker's hand at the Corvallis celebration.

Throughout the season, jeers were lobbed from the stands towards opposing players and umpires. But whenever Heimlich stepped up to the mound, he received cheers of adoration that elevated him above his team. Every person who supported Heimlich during the season, either in Goss Stadium or in the comfort of their own living room, must reconcile what it means to root for a convicted sex offender.

After game two of the College World Series finals against Arkansas, OSU baseball Head Coach Pat Casey entered the locker room and said the team won because of its character. What Casey meant by “character” is hard to fathom, when he and the rest of the team’s management chose Heimlich to lead the team to a national championship.

We at The Daily Barometer also played a part in lionizing Heimlich.

We have tracked his progress through the season, and even featured him on the cover of our May 14 issue after he helped the Beavers defeat Stanford. We treated him like any other pitcher because as journalists we have an obligation to remain objective in our news reporting. Heimlich’s past, and our personal opinions on the matter, were not relevant to the facts of each game he played. 

However, because of the repercussions Heimlich’s status as a public figure have for how the OSU community is perceived, we believe it is important to address our concerns through this editorial. 

In a statement released after Heimlich’s past came to light, OSU President Ed Ray said the university “does not condone” the pitcher’s actions. However, Ray also stated that he believes Heimlich has the right to be a student despite his criminal background.

According to the Oregonian, the NCAA has no policy that prevents convicted felons from playing in intercollegiate sports. Certain schools around the country have their own policies in place preventing convicted felons from playing, though OSU was not one of them at the time.

After the news of Heimlich’s crime broke, the university announced it would require recently accepted and current students to reveal any felony convictions or sex offender status during the OSU admissions process.

Being a student athlete is a privilege, not a right. It is earned through talent and determination, and there is no question that Heimlich’s spot on the roster was well-deserved based on his athletic prowess. However, this privilege endows Heimlich and other student athletes with a high degree of influence. Virtually all other students—with or without criminal convictions—are not afforded this luxury.

Now more than ever with the baseball team’s championship win, Beaver athletes like Heimlich are some of OSU’s most visible representatives to the wider world. They speak for the rest of us and their actions reflect the entire community.

As the 2018 Major League Baseball draft drew closer, Heimlich claimed he was innocent of the crime he pleaded guilty to as a teenager. While some of his teammates were drafted by MLB teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox, Heimlich was not. As this year’s College Baseball Foundation National Pitcher of the Year, he was the only player to receive this honor in recent memory and not be selected by any of the 30 teams in the draft. 

If no team so far wants Heimlich to join them at the professional level, why should he be allowed to play at the collegiate level? What message does his veneration send to the entire country about our values as a university? And when will we as a community recognize that his behaviors are unacceptable?

College sports have the potential to create strong communities. The pride fans feel when their team does well is laudable and the support they lend to players is noble. But a community that elevates a sex offender slams its doors in the face of every sexual assault survivor.

It cannot be ignored that fans of OSU baseball have acted as if Heimlich is innocent and deserving of our praise. Yet the justice system, the 30 MLB teams that did not draft him and the rest of the country know this is untrue. If any other member of this community committed the same crime, they would not be celebrated like Heimlich. His skill as a pitcher clouds our judgement and poses a moral conundrum where none exists. 

Fans of Beaver baseball come from every walk of life. They are students, faculty, parents and alumni. In the stadium, dividing lines of race, gender and ideology blur, and the community should come together as one. They should cry as one and cheer as one. But what good is a community if it prioritizes athletic talent over moral credibility?

We ask that every member of this community ponder what exactly we are cheering for.

(10) comments

Thebeav123

How do you mix up Mike Parker and Mike Riley???

BeevaBeleeva

I am a proud graduate and member of Beaver Nation. The events involving Luke and his family during his youth trigger all kinds of negative emotions. I haven’t responded to any articles of Luke’s situation other than this one. I think I am responding because I expect more from my university teaching students about journalism. This article is just another example of many which I consider fitting into the tabloid journalism category. This is exactly, what I expect to see in our local state tabloid, the Oregonian. Their sole existence seems to be for commercialism propaganda, if the story develops a click, it must be good, right? True investigative journalism seems to be a lost art with them. I realize this is an editorial piece, but please develop a singular premise and base the conclusion from a set of facts versus a jumbled mess of irrational emotional thought.

The media has thoroughly investigated Luke's story with two competing narratives. One being Luke is a sex offender that violated a young girl and should be publicly flogged and sentenced to isolation for the rest of his life. All who associate with Luke or support Luke as an adult, are equally heinous and morally wrong for doing so. Apparently, these authors leans toward this narrative.

The other narrative is a story of a torn family fighting for child custody where serious allegations were made to gain leverage in acquiring custody rights of her daughter during the custody battle. Luke maintained innocence throughout process and supported his innocence testimony by passing several lie detector tests. However, ultimately Luke and his family chose to not rip the family apart more than it was suffering already and accept a plea deal. The deal included him admitting guilt in exchange for sealing his juvenile records provided he didn’t have any more legal trouble. The deal would legally close that chapter in his and his family's life and allow the family relationships to heal privately versus publicly.

These narratives offer significant problems in that other than Luke and his family, no one will ever know which the truth is! The basic tenet of journalism is to uncover the truth by presenting facts that lead to a natural conclusion or even better lead to asking more clarifying probing questions. The basic tenet of editorials are to write about topics of community interest by introducing a premise or query, supported by facts and presenting a conclusion, while allowing for collective community thought to process the facts to assist in clarifying a conclusion.

This article has several preconceived conclusions, that each on their own could be a separate editorial. However, this editorial jumble these thoughts together with little factual support for an underlying premise. Was MLB’s choice in not drafting Luke a referendum on how an educational institution should treat students of juvenile crimes? Was MLB’s choice the result of a high profile economic decision or determination of his guilt? Should students with a juvenile record be allowed to participate in extracurricular university activities? If yes, how about scholarship activities? What if the student walks on to the team and does not have a scholarship? Should that be allowed? What about student government or clubs? What about the band or choir? Are some crimes okay, but others, not? If an incident in one state is a crime, but in another state, it isn’t. Should that crime be considered (in some states drug crimes or even peeing in public are felonies, others, it is a misdemeanor)? If the juvenile has already served their sentence, does that matter? When Beaver Nation cheered for the team, did that automatically imply BN was blinded by Luke’s immense talent, idolized as a God, or collectively deemed him innocent of his past crime? When Beaver Nation cheered for the team, was it a statement of its collective lack of moral fiber prioritizing entertainment over community and institutional values?

It appears the authors can’t possibly consider an alternative paradigm other their own. Could it be possible that a rational human being could also evaluate Luke’s character, how he represented the university and team while on campus is at as important as a juvenile event, which may or may not be true? Is it possible that a rational human being could allow for Luke to be guilty, but also accept that a person can repent, serve his sentence, and be allowed to participate in all student activities, because we are a people of grace and compassion? Could it be possible that a rational human also believes like the university leadership, when it says, “They continue to believe in allowing vetted student athletes with a juvenile crime record to participate in all student activities, because it will be beneficial to the student and university alike while they are shaped into good community adults”. Is it possible that a rational human could cheer for a team while at the same time be conflicted in their support of Luke as a person?

However, these authors asserts that Beaver Nation did not process this situation with much, if any, rational thought. These author’s conclusions are, BN cheered because it was blinded by Luke’s tremendous athletic talent, MLB’s choice to not draft Luke is somehow an indictment on Luke’s guilt rather than a matter of economics decision, and BN could only cheer because it is void of all moral fiber, standards or values, where entertainment takes the highest priority.

On the contrary, Beaver Nation is a collective of all thoughts discussed, including the authors. Failure to recognize and allow for the entire breadth of discussion is sad to me, especially in a university setting. This article had great opportunity, it is unfortunate it was wasted.

97Beav7

Very well said!

Beaverbeliever21

Being morally “right” would require that the authors of this piece do their homework beyond what has been repeatedly stated in the mainstream media. If you did your due diligence before writing this piece, you would know that Mr. Heimlich never admitted guilt, but pled guilty. There is a difference. Additionally, to continue placing people into “groups” i.e. Beaver fans (them) versus We the self-righteous media (you), you have stigmatized what it is to be an OSU Baseball supporter. Isn’t this behavior exactly what you Continually fight against? To stigmatize a group for what they believe in or how they simply are is irresponsible in writing pieces like this. You do realize by making blanket statements like the one you have made, you may influence how OSU alumni choose to support the university. Further, by being frivolous with your words, you have made yourselves no better than the National Enquirer. You have placed yourselves as moral superiors to many OSU supporters. I hope you do not live in a glass house because you have proven you are not afraid to throw stones.

You chose to make this your lead story this edition instead of doing a celebratory article on the team as whole being the champions this year. There is no story on how Kevin Abel was the star pitcher of the CWS, nothing on the hitting of Adley Rutschman, Trevor Larnach, Cayden Grenier, etc. We have a great team formed by many great people, but you reported on the overspun year-old story in order to make point that we Beaver fans are not morally acceptable. Unfortunate.

BillFarley

Question: "If no team so far wants Heimlich to join them at the professional level, why should he be allowed to play at the collegiate level?"
Answer: OSU is a public institution with a mission to educate and provide activities to develop individuals intellectually and socially. Professional leagues are for-profit ventures. OSU has an obligation to provide services without prejudice. MLB does not.
Luke is now an alumni like the rest of us who have attended OSU. He will root for next year's team like the rest of us. No need to put him on a pedestal. If you hadn't, you would not have written this editorial. Classic strawman argument we were taught to avoid.

Beth

Cowards. You misidentify someone you attempt to slander by association with the target of this hit piece, and you don't even have the decency to publish under your own names. You'll be right at home in the failing mainstream media someday.

Beaverbeliever21

It’s laughable that the Barometer editorial staff has chosen to make the Mike Parker correction but has insofar ignored the many other mistakes made in the article. [angry]

GoBeavers

While it is important to believe victims of sexual assault and to not treat sexual assault lightly, the Heimlich story is more complicated and, I think, deserves more consideration before we vilify him.

I want to clarify first that I do believe Heimlich did this and I am not excusing that act in any way.

First off, normally when we talk about sexual assault being brushed aside for the benefit of sports glory, we are talking about unprosecuted assault and ignored accusations by victims. In this case, however, the perpetrator has already been convicted AND lawfully punished. He has done everything for his parole and is seen as the lowest risk for recidivism with a a chance of 2.75 or lower, no more than any other person. (http://www.njjn.org/our-work/juvenile-justice-policy-sex-offense-registration-and-notification-laws) (https://www.google.com/amp/s/articles.oregonlive.com/beavers/index.ssf/2017/06/luke_heimlich_sex_crime_surfac.amp).

With this in mind we are really talking more about whether we believe in a punitive or a rehabilitative justice system. I personally believe it is both more productive for society and cheaper to have rehabilitative system.

Additionally, studies estimate up to 80% of juvenile sexual offenders, such as Heimlich, were abused themselves (Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, page 19). With this statistic in mind, I don't think it is right to completely stop anyone's career happiness for a crime they are almost certain not to commit again and have already been punished for and rehabilitated from.

GoBeavs

Idolize (from Merriam-Webster): to worship as a god; broadly : to love or admire to excess .

Perhaps you could offer some evidence as to idolization as opposed to support?

Also, Luke Heimlich did not admit guilt. He plead guilty. Google this: "Why do people plead guilty when they aren't". Gee, about 13,000,000 links. You need to educate yourself as to why this happens, because it happens a lot more than it should.

Go Beavs!

Beaver2012

Here is an idea... interview Heimlich and do your research before cowardly writing an uneducated article while hiding who you are.
We route for him because we know he is not guilty. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Welcome to the discussion.

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