Tougher restrictions on sex offenders are needed.
It seems like a no-brainer: sex offenders shouldn’t be allowed to play on college sports teams. Except that the NCAA doesn’t really care about victims of sexual violence. At least not enough to restrict people who’ve committed these terrible crimes from playing on college teams, which is why sexual assault survivor Brenda Tracy is leading the charge for change.
“I hope that every college will take this on as an initiative and say this is common sense, safety is paramount, it doesn’t matter if we have an athlete or not, we want to make our campuses safe, and we stop recruiting and, kind of, harboring violent offenders on our athletic teams at our colleges,” Tracy told King 12 Oregon. She’s become a well-known advocate for victims of sexual assault after her own gang rape by four men in 1998. Some of the men involved in her attack were football players at Oregon State. In 2014, Tracy began working with coaches, athletes, school administrators and students at Oregon State to improve the help provided to victims of sexual assault. “Oregon State has been many things for me,” Tracy explained. “It’s been a source of immense pain and redemption and healing, it’s been a place where I have found support and a home.”
Students should feel safe and supportive when on college campuses. Having sex offenders on sports teams diminishes the opportunity other students have to feel safe. It also sends the message that athletes are above the laws we use to govern society. We can’t expect people to take repercussions for their actions seriously if we say, “Oh, well, he throws a ball fast so no need to punish him.” A perfect example of this happened recently at Oregon State when news broke that the school’s star pitcher is also a registered sex offender. Pitcher Luke Heimlich plead guilty to first-degree child molestation in 2012 when he was 15 years old for abusing a family member who was 4 when the attacks started, King 12 Oregon reported. Heimlich also failed to register as a sex offender this year, which is a misdemeanor crime.
While Tracy has spent years working with colleges across the country, the case in her own backyard involving Heimlich prompted her to demand student-athletes with a history of sexual violence not be allowed to play. “As upset and disappointed as I am in all this, I also see an opportunity for change,” she shared. So this week 61 schools in the NCAA received a letter from Tracy asking for tougher restrictions for students who have a past that includes sexual violence. In response, Steve Clark, Oregon State University Vice President of University Relations released this statement: “OSU has worked with Brenda over the past several years on many matters. Oregon State remains committed to fostering a safe environment for every individual on Oregon State’s campuses and within our communities.”
Tracy’s meeting with Oregon State leadership officials later this week and we can only hope they consider their students’ safety more important than a baseball game. One school, Indiana University, already adopted a policy restricting violent offenders from competing in college sports. It’s time for others to follow their lead. “Aspiring student-athletes need to know their behavior matters, and the best way to do that is to implement policies that say we have no tolerance for this behavior,” Tracy said. “If you commit this crime you will not be playing ball for us, period.”