For both Matt Patricia, the new head coach of the Detroit Lions, and Luke Heimlich, an Oregon State baseball player with amazing talent, the sudden emergence in the media about their alleged sexual misconduct, 22 years and 6 years ago, respectively, the revelations hit hard. For Patricia, the Detroit Newsreported that he, along with another young man, had been indicted for aggravated sexual assault of a woman during their spring break on Padre Island. The victim was “unable to testify” because she could not face the “pressure” of a trial, and the indictment was dismissed. For Heimlich, the allegations, which he denies despite his guilty plea at age 15, involved charges of “child molestation in the first degree” of his young niece. Heimlich was just weeks away from completing all the requirements of his sentence to have his record expunged when The Oregonian ran a full story on the case.
These are the cases that try our souls. These are the cases where enviable athletic talent resides in a person whose pasts, whether true or false, make us uncomfortable.
And then there are the ethical issues, most of which have not been considered in the year of MeToo. What does become of those who have made mistakes? Does it make a difference if they acknowledge their mistakes? Do we sentence them to the life of a pariah? How do the victims cope with success of those who harmed them? The stomach churns, but you can’t help the empathy that swells for both sides. Forgiveness and judgment are not our jobs. Thank goodness. These are the times when we are glad to surrender accountability to a higher authority and let the sports teams grapple with the issues. We leave the NFL franchise, the Oregon State administrators, and the major league baseball teams to make decisions about their future with little guidance from us because no matter which way you turn, it feels wrong and more wrong and then the empathy returns. Oh, why can’t they all be like Joseph Profumo? Go away and devote your life to charity.
Perhaps what we can do is learn from these troubling events in the lives of others. These two lives and the events in them, current and past offer a lesson for all. This stuff just wants out there. The NFL, the Patriots (where Patricia was an assistant coach, and the Detroit Lions say they did not know and the background checks did not bring up the information. Oregon State? Well, Sports Illustrated struggled mightily to find what they knew about Heimlich and when they knew it, but the answers are not clear or forthcoming. Which leaves us with Patricia and Heimlich. They should have gotten all of this out there, take their pain, and get it over with because it is coming out anyway. And “It” has the worst timing. After 22 years for one, just at the peak of an NFL career as a head coach, and weeks before a juvenile record is expunged. Uncannily impossible? No, not when truth wants out there. it will find a way. Perhaps it is the nondisclosure that finds us wondering about their character. We can forgive and forget, but maybe we just want the right to have it on the table, and the earlier the better, and sooner rather than later.