I think everything that can be said about non-draftee Luke Heimlich has been already said. Convicted as a sex offender after confessing to molesting his six-year-old niece when he was 15 years-old, Heimlich’s family mounted a public campaign to get him in the draft after leaving Oregon State, culminating in a controversial Sports Illustrated piece that painted him as an aw-shucks guy who pleaded guilty to avoid his family any more shame.
Well, even though not a team bit on him in the draft, rumblings have arisen that a team, namely the Royals, have considered signing him as an undrafted free agent. Yes, this is the same team that just preached to their squad to “take a stand” against pornography, in case the hypocrisy isn’t too on the nose for you.
Others have spoken incredibly more eloquently than I ever could on this matter, so take it from here:
“The legal system is separate from baseball, and according to the legal system, Heimlich is eligible to be employed and a productive member of society. But playing baseball is a privilege, not a right. Should an opportunity be given to those who confessed to unspeakable crimes? Do we believe in second chances for him because we feel strongly about the redemptive power of the criminal justice system or because he throws a 97 mph fastball?”
“As a matter of law, he’s guilty. As a matter of fact, there’s a really good chance he’s guilty, because if he pleaded guilty based on the evidence against him, that means he (or his lawyer) believed the state had overwhelming evidence that he committed the crime, or at least enough evidence to make a guilty verdict probable. So this is not, contrary to how some have portrayed it, a “he said, she said” debate any longer. The case is over, and Heimlich accepted his guilt. He cannot now relitigate that decision for the sake of his baseball career.”
“On the weekend that the Times was in town, Heimlich took the mound against Arizona State. The reporter witnessed nearly 3,000 fans standing to cheer his name. How are survivors supposed to react when they see that? It makes me anxious... The legacy of self-loathing that accompanies sexual abuse is very powerful stuff, and we are endangered when abusers are showered with praise... And it’s also why the simple act of accepting Heimlich into the membership of baseball, into the caste of people whose talents we root for and whose successes we celebrate, abandons those of us who have suffered in the way that Heimlich’s victim has. Baseball struggles with the concept of ethics between the white lines: the occasional matter is decided by unwritten rules, and the rest are referred to the written ones. Beyond that, winning is everything, and fans are carried along by that same momentum.”
Ultimately, this is why there will always be a fundamental disconnect between media, the entities in which they are controlled by, and the people that consume it. Either fans are going to be reactionaries to said media, in the way that even the utterance of a pride day, or an openly gay athlete, or questioning of an athlete’s horrid past, leads to a torrent of hate-filled-diarrhea-speak; or, just as common but less exposed, is the alienated fan who feels that this entity’s embrace of hatred or violence silently turns them away. Luckily for us, they’re not as silent as they once were.
But it’s also not comforting to know that these institutions are only as good as the strongest institution or method of skewering is to hold them to account. We see this in sports all time; whether it’s FIFA’s use of literal slaves to build their Qatari World Cup facilities, or the NCAA’s rampant wage theft of their (in my opinion) rightful workers, these sporting entities will take whatever awful methods that are allowed to them to their logical extreme for the maximum output of dollars. That’s it.
It makes sense, then, considering we do not own the property of the Royals or any other sporting entity, to make the social cost of taking such an action completely untenable. I sure will rake them over the coals for doing this, and I’m glad we collectively are doing this in advance (That doesn’t mean all sportswriters are handling it with tact, and they deserve scrutiny, too).
Hey, Royals: don’t sign Luke Heimlich. No one is owed a baseball career, and no one is owed a second chance, when that second chance entails money, public attention, a spotlight, and, like Davies-Stofka said: a platform for the abused to watch their abusers soak in attention, praise, and sympathy.