By Douglas Giombarrese
Weeks after the Penn State scandal involving coach Jerry Sandusky broke, another deeply troubling collegiate athletic child-abuse scandal was reported, involving (now former) Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine. For those unfamiliar with the situation, two former ball boys alleged on ESPN that they were sexually abused by Fine during a period between the 1970s and 1990s. Later, a third person came forward claiming he was molested in 2002 while traveling with the Syracuse basketball team.
Both Fine and head coach Jim Boeheim immediately vehemently denied the allegations. Fine’s veracity in denial was understandable; it was Boeheim’s that caught the public eye, as he specifically claimed the accusers were lying in hopes of making money. The most damning evidence against Fine came when ESPN later revealed they had obtained in 2002 a recorded conversation between Fine’s wife Laurie and Bobby Davis, the first accuser, who set up the recording as a way of proving his case. During the conversation, it becomes apparent that Laurie Fine knew of the abuse, specifically acknowledging that her husband acted on sexual desires for Davis when he was a minor. Further, she made absolutely no effort to stop it. Based off this information alone (and more is sure to come out), the initial moral crimes of both husband and wife are clear and undisputed.
Boeheim, for his part, made unnecessary and spiteful remarks about the accusers without any way of backing them up. However, unlike Joe Paterno and other Penn State administrators, no one has stated that Boeheim was made aware of the accusations. In this light, his defense of Fine can be seen as a reaction to incredibly serious accusations against a long time friend whom he knew to do no wrong.
Because of this, the media has limited the comparisons to the Penn State scandal. However, the key aspect of this whole story has been shockingly overlooked is ESPN’s role in all of this. After all, they obtained the tape of Laurie Fine and Davis in 2002 and failed to do anything. They may argue that Davis’s story was not corroborated by anyone. They may argue that Fine’s voice was only recently verified by a third party voice recognition expert. This still does not explain why they did not give the tape to either the police or Syracuse University, both of whom were capable of doing such things.
Instead, they held on to the tape for over eight years, allowing an alleged child molester to continue his work in the same capacity as before. Even worse, Syracuse had conducted their own investigation of Fine in 2005, but were unable to corroborate Davis’s story, perhaps because they were not aware of the tape. Journalistic integrity should not be placed above moral integrity, especially when involving allegations of this nature. In this way, perhaps comparisons to the Penn State scandal are more appropriate than is let on, with ESPN replacing Joe Paterno as the morally culpable ones.