EDITORIAL: What idolizing Luke Heimlich says about the OSU community

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

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.

T-Mobile Ad about 5G coverage and value

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.

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.