The news broke, as these things often do, over the weekend. In a column for the Kansas City Star, Vahe Gregorian wrote that the Royals were contemplating signing convicted child molester Luke Heimlich to a contract.
Is it really surprising the Royals are linked with Heimlich? It seems like a loaded question, but this is Dayton Moore, as morally upright an individual as you will ever find. If there’s anyone who believes he can help place a wayward young man on the straight and narrow, it would be Moore. I write this without any hint of sarcasm or cynicism. If Moore believes he can help someone in trouble, he will most certainly extend his hand.
Here’s the problem. We are not talking about someone struggling with addiction or someone down on their luck through events out of their control or battling personal demons. Nor are we talking about someone who committed a victimless crime. We are talking about someone who admitted having sexual contact with a six-year-old girl.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. I am very uncomfortable with the black and white world that seems to make up social media, where right and wrong are summarily judged with haste. Twitter (and social media in general) are awful forums for debate, where it is impossible for nuance to exist. There are multitudes of grey, but damn if you can see them online. Call me naive, but I’m a believer in rehabilitation and second chances. These opinions feel unpopular in the social media world. (Even now, I feel the need to interject that, yes, there are some who are beyond redemption and undeserving of a second chance. I am writing in broad terms and not specifically about the Heimlich case.)
Professional athletes are not role models, but they often are, by donning the uniform with “Kansas City” emblazoned on the front, an extension of the community. It’s often a complex relationship. We celebrate Danny Duffy when he declares, “Bury me a Royal!” and when he donates $1,000 for every strikeout to Noah’s Bandage Project to fight childhood cancer. That’s good. The flip side is we feel disappointed when Duffy is arrested on a drunk driving charge in the drive thru of a local Burger King. That’s bad. Athletes contain the same layers as everyone else. No one is perfect. Mistakes are made.
Some players embrace their community. Others shy away from it. Either direction is fine. There is no “right way” to represent your team and your city. Some people are wired differently than others.
I’ve seen arguments that signing Heimlich would signal to survivors of molestation that the Royals are okay with signing a player with such a criminal past which would marginalize those very survivors. I tend to agree. I can’t imagine what a survivor of molestation or sexual assault would think if they found out their favorite baseball team signed a convicted sexual predator.
What compounds the Heimlich situation (at least in my mind) is the fact he shows no remorse. In fact, he denies that he committed any crime, despite his guilty plea. Remorse certainly wouldn’t absolve him of his crime, but it’s really difficult to wrap your mind around how an individual can move forward when he insists he did nothing wrong in the past. Again, this isn’t to say I would be okay with the Royals signing someone like Heimlich if he said that he was sorry for the pain his actions caused. I’m simply making a general statement that it is very difficult for me to believe a person can move forward from any kind of incident when they fail to admit their culpability.
Damn, this is ugly business.
The Royals are having their worst season in memory and are in the midst of The Process 2.0. The goal remains the same from the first rebuild: a world championship. The question Moore is undoubtedly asking is the same one he asks about every potential draft pick or signing, could this player in some way contribute to the next winning Royals team? But Moore needs to be asking deeper questions. I am sure he is, but those questions (and answers) should eliminate Heimlich from consideration of a place within this organization.
In the particular case of Heimlich, the crime is so heinous, and his remorse is so totally lacking that the answers will always be the same. Any potential win gained in the standings isn’t worth it. It’s just not.
There have been a number of reactions to the news that the Royals are exploring this avenue. They range from, “The guy can have a second chance” to “If the Royals sign him, I will never set foot in the stadium again.” As always, I cannot tell anyone how to be a fan. It’s an individual decision. And it’s complicated.
Likewise, I am not here to declare that Heimlich should never be allowed to play baseball. That is not for me to say. My immediate concern is the Royals. Let the other 29 teams make their own decision regarding Heimlich. Should baseball not be there for him in his future, he does have his education to fall back on. He will probably do fine in his life, whether or not baseball is part of that. He will live with his actions and the consequences of those actions for the rest of his life. I hope his victim will have the same opportunity to recover.
I do feel comfortable saying the Royals should not pursue Heimlich. There’s really no need for this team to perform their due diligence in this instance as they would any other free agent. He pled guilty to molesting a six-year-old girl and has subsequently insisted he is innocent of the charges, despite his plea. That tells me more than enough.
Still, there are plenty of layers to this story. A single article or blog post can’t delve in-depth to every last detail of the Heimlich case. I can only write about how I feel based on the limited facts we have about the case. I’m writing because we can choose to make our voices heard and hope the team listens. There are undoubtedly those on the other end of the spectrum who feel that Heimlich has paid his dues with his guilty plea and, given his talent for throwing a baseball, should be offered a contract by the Royals. I don’t happen to be one of those people.
Luke Heimlich doesn’t deserve to be a member of the Royals.