Last week, an Oregonian article disclosed that Oregon State University Beavers ace pitcher Luke Heimlich had been found responsible at age 15 of sexually molesting a 6-year-old relative.
Heimlich’s offense was serious. So was his punishment given that he was underage. He got two years’ probation, with the threat of 40 weeks in detention if he didn’t comply. And he was mandated into sex offender treatment and placed on the sex offender registry.
Oregonian columnist John Canzano called on Heimlich to pull himself out of the team’s College World Series appearance and suggested that his baseball life should be over. (Heimlich has since quit the team, though he might have noted that that Canzano has been about as consistent as the Washington Nationals bullpen when it comes to second chances.) Other commentators piled on. A CBS Sports analyst called Heimlich’s background “sordid” and said felons should never be allowed in college athletics. Eugene Register-Guard columnist Austin Meek blasted the school for signing Heimlich in the first place.
All of them argued that the larger context–Heimlich’s crime–wipes out his right to play baseball.
But every context has its context, as Tony Judt once said. Juveniles and adults convicted of sex crimes have very low re-offense rates. Teens often make bad decisions precisely because they’re still kids—developing brains haven’t formed the powers of judgment that adults have, which is why the juvenile system is designed to rehabilitate, not punish. And a mound of research shows that what keeps ex-offenders on the right track are housing, jobs, and social support—not isolation and public humiliation.
Heimlich went unselected in this week’s Major League draft. His baseball career may be over. The Oregonian’s Heimlich maneuver probably killed it.
The one-and-done rule operating for Heimlich doesn’t seem to apply to everyone. Take 31-year-old Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Bush. In March 2012, behind the wheel of his SUV while drunk, he hit 72-year-old motorcyclist Anthony Tufano. Then he fled the scene, driving over Tufano’s head in the process. Tufano suffered a brain hemorrhage, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, broken bones in his back. Bush would have killed Tufano had he not been wearing a helmet. It was Bush’s third arrest for a DUI.
Tufano’s life was altered forever: “What happened to me, he put me to a point where physically I can never come back,” Tufano said in March.
In 2015, Bush was released from prison. Two months later, he was signed by the Texas Rangers. The next spring he played his first game as a Ranger.
The media world seems to agree that Bush should get another chance for a crime he committed at 26. ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian called Bush’s story one of the most amazing you’ll ever see. (“Good for him,” Kurkjian said in concluding his segment.) The Sporting News gave Bush its “Comeback of Year” award. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel wrote, “No one involved believes they can bury this story, nor will there be an attempt to run from it, but all parties are interested in making Matt Bush more about today and tomorrow rather than yesterday.”
One kid, one adult. Two crimes. Two victims. Sentences issued, punishment served. What gives? Reporters should look at themselves for an answer.