A pitch for decency: the flaw in letting Luke Heimlich pitch

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The original Heimlich maneuver, named after American surgeon Henry Heimlich, refers to the life-saving actions applied to an individual when a foreign object blocks the flow of air to the lungs. Today’s Heimlich maneuver, named after Oregon State University’s pitcher Luke Heimlich, refers to the career-saving actions by complicit individuals to prevent the blocking of a budding star from a championship opportunity.

Heimlich is the 22-year-old 2017 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, widely expected to lead the Beavers to the College World Series. He is set to graduate this summer with a degree in communications and political science, and currently sports a 3.3 GPA.

He also pleaded guilty to child molestation when he was 16.

At what point do Heimlich’s potential and skill eclipse the moral and social consequences of his disturbing history? Oregon State seems to think it lies somewhere near an 11-1 record and a 0.76 ERA.

On Aug. 27, 2012, Heimlich pleaded guilty to one count of felony child molestation after the ex-wife of his brother reported to police that Heimlich had inappropriately touched their child when she was between the ages of 4 and 6.

It is unsettling that Oregon State would esteem a convicted child molester in an attempt to win a couple of baseball games, but it is even more alarming that there is a clear lack of transparency, and thus security, for its fans and students in identifying Heimlich as a threat.

In the weeks after the Oregonian’s June 2017 exposé on Heimlich’s history, OSU’s head baseball coach Pat Casey refused to comment. Scott Barnes, OSU’s athletic director, simultaneously refused to state when the department had identified Heimlich as a registered sex offender.

Oregon State Police regularly sends the university a list of registered sex offenders in Benton County, and the university then cross-checks names within a student database. This means that OSU should have identified Heimlich sometime after his arrival in 2014.

Yet it wasn’t until three years later that the university expressed any concern over Heimlich’s presence on the team. Moreover, the university didn’t take any action: Heimlich withdrew his name from the team before its Super Regional matchup last June. But now, after nine months, his name is back on the lineup.

I’m not here to argue that Heimlich doesn’t deserve a second chance or that his mistakes could be attributed to immaturity.

The more concerning element at play here lies within OSU’s complicity in upholding a registered sex offender. During a time when one in five women on college campuses report sexual harassment, it is critical that universities be vigilant.

It is OSU’s responsibility to tell its students that no one is too accomplished to be held to the universal standard of human decency, and not allowing a sex offender — no matter how talented — to play for a Division 1 baseball team seems like a good place to start.

OSU’s dismissal of Heimlich’s responsibility speaks to a greater disturbance in society. When sexual violence toward women is normalized, you get Kobe Bryant as an Oscar winner. In the broader perspective of accepting inappropriate behavior toward women, you get Donald Trump as president.

Predatory sexual violence does not only fall within specific instances but is revealed through a pattern of long-term abuse.

Bryant should not have won an Oscar. Donald Trump should not be president. Heimlich should not be on OSU’s baseball team.

Here’s a final pitch for decency from OSU: First, hold your student-athletes to a standard of not committing sexual violence against women, and then maybe we can work up to holding our president accountable.

This culture shift that we are a part of will involve more than just reining in the powerful men — and pitchers — who commit sexual violence. It is about blocking the enablers who empower them.

Alicia Sadowski writes the Thursday column about the intersection of sports and politics. Contact her at [email protected]