Fine was fired on Sunday.We here at Orange::44 have cultivated a reputation over the years. In going from the first Syracuse Blog on the internet under the direction of Matt Glaude, to my current tenure as the editor here, we have run the gambit from silly to critical. But, especially in the last few years, we (John Brennan and myself) have become known as a reliable source in informing readers when the arena of the law and sports intersect. There is also a reason our slogan here is “chronicling the daily disaster that is Syracuse University Athletics”. It is at this juncture that I, as editor, feel like we should contribute to the Bernie Fine discussion.
Famed movie critic Gene Siskel was known for asking the following question, “what do we know?” So let’s start there. We know that allegations have been made of a disturbing nature against Bernie Fine, long time assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, and the Associate Head Coach of the program. We know that these allegations were made by Bobby Davis, a former Syracuse ball boy. It was investigated previously by the Syracuse Post-Standard, ESPN, and Syracuse University. Nothing could be corroborated at the times of those investigations. The allegations resurfaced a couple of weeks ago, which then got the Syracuse Police, Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, ESPN, the Post-Standard, Syracuse University, the US Attorney, and the US Secret Service involved. We know that nothing was run in the papers or the media before 2011 because no corroboration was found to confirm Davis’ story at the time, including people he told them to ask. That also includes the now accuser #2 Mike Lang, Davis’ stepbrother. Jim Boeheim defended his friend at this point, calling the accusers liars. On Sunday a new accuser, Zach Tomaselli, charged with sexual assault himself, accused Fine of abusing him as well. Also on Sunday, ESPN released an audiotape of what they say is Laura Fine, Bernie’s wife, and Bobby Davis from 2002. In that tape, the woman admits that she suspected some of the things that Bernie Fine was accused of to Bobby Davis. Finally, on Sunday night, Nancy Cantor fired Bernie Fine. Jim Boeheim also issued a statement apologizing for his earlier statements in defending Fine and calling the alleged victims a liar. This is all that we know.
That is a skimming of the facts but rest is all speculation and guesses and assumptions. And that is where we are at the writing of this. Those are the only things we know for sure. That’s important to remember, because ESPN, sports radio callers, and national columnists all seem to think they know more than that. They do not. The rest is all opinion or assumption.
It is no secret that I, Brian Harrison, am a graduate of Syracuse University (’05). John Brennan is a two time graduate of Syracuse, earning his BA and law degree from Syracuse (’03, ’06). We are fans. We are both upset by the notion that this could have happened at Syracuse University, a place where we both have endless fond memories, both before and after our commencements. But do I think that the University had anything to do with any molestation? No. Nor do I think there is a grand conspiracy or cover up in any way on the part of the University or any employee of the university. Not even Bernie Fine covered anything up. He just denied it. Nor, at this juncture, is there anything or anyone saying that there is some sort of cover up. Rational people would say that means at this point there wasn’t one then.
The good news is that Syracuse University could not have handled anything from this latest investigation better. From the initial statement from the Chancellor, to this latest statement about the firing of Bernie Fine, they have been excellent in their smartly crafted statements, saying the right things, and hitting the right tones. Something Penn State never did.
This investigation has taken many twists. Each more unbelievable than the last. It started when the District Attorney basically accused the Chief of the Syracuse Police Department (and/or the Assistant Chief) of either clear obstruction or incompetence. In an awesome press conference (please watch it if you haven’t) he ripped up one side of the police and down the other, and got a little bit of the mayor as well. Then there is this phone call. I don’t know what else is going to come out, but at this point nothing is surprising.
In terms of the legal situation, William Fitzpatrick will present items as the District Attorney to the Grand Jury. No charges will come of it thanks to the New York Statute of Limitations. While they have been amended to allow prosecution for these heinous crimes against children indefinitely, they were not changed retroactively. With any new and more recent allegations charges could be brought, but as of right now Fine is essentially in no danger of a case being brought in court. And there is always the possibility of Federal Court as well.
This third accuser to surface has major credibility issues, looking at it from a legal perspective. Facing charges of sexual assault in Maine, this seems like setting up a legal defense as an abused child himself. If true or not, there are credibility issues here that police and courts have to sort out. His father has said it is lies. It is another bizarre angle, but something that, if true, could provide a case for the district attorney or federal authorities to charge Fine with.
But on to the real reason for writing this essay. A few people are calling for the firing of Jim Boeheim. Nothing that he has done, or any information that has currently transpired, is grounds or reason for Syracuse University to fire Jim Boeheim. You have to remember at the start of this that this was the third time these allegations had surfaced. Jim Boeheim’s employer, Syracuse University, conducted their own investigation into the allegations in 2005 (which never heard the audio tape just released) over a four month period and nothing was found. Jim Boeheim thought that Fine was exonerated. On top of the fact that Boeheim had no reason to believe it was true from anything he saw, he defended his friend of 50 years. Now there is a preponderance that the first two victim’s stories are true. It appears his first statement of calling the accusations lies was in error. We still do not know the truth, but we know that Boeheim should not have said those things. However, Boeheim thought they were lies at the time. Just because he did that, does not mean he tolerates child abuse, nor does it mean he thought that if Fine did anything that it was acceptable. Boeheim has rightfully apologized. He will also probably face some sort of punishment from the University, most likely in a fine. Boeheim will also continue to take criticism which is fair in terms of his first statement. But did anything he say rise to the level of being fired from the University? Not at all. Nor is the argument of anything “happening on his watch” valid either. If he was notified by someone witnessing anything improper by Fine, then that would be valid. No one saw anything and then told Boeheim, nor did he see anything himself. Nor was it his responsibility to police coaches and players to the level that he would have seen anything happen. As Davis said himself, Boeheim wasn’t at the Fine home at 2am. Nor should he be expected to have been there. Davis knows that and most reasonable people do as well. If you are someone’s boss and they rob a bank after work, should you be fired? If you went on a business trip and he left the heist plan on a desk in their hotel room, were you supposed to search the room just because you’re their boss? I submit not. A reasonable person would submit not. Nor can anyone, not even CBS employees, extrapolate that Boeheim was saying that all abuse victims are lying. He was saying that these individuals were lying, convinced that if they were not something would have come up in 2005. Any sort of red flag. It didn’t. You can’t blame Boeheim for thinking what he thought at the time with the information he had. Again he did not have to make those statements and should be criticized, but clearly should not be fired. If everyone was fired for making dumb statements at some point even more people in this country would be unemployed. However, he is a public figure and a representative in name only to Syracuse, so he will need to face that, which he has in an apology that, written by him personally or not, still accurately relays his sentiment.
Supporting Boeheim also does not equal support for child abuse. To start, no one supports child abuse. Certainly John and I don’t. To say that saying Boeheim should keep his job is equal to supporting child abuse is not only wrong, but it is an argument that does not pass muster. Syracuse is not Penn State and any comparisons to the situation are made by people either ignorant of the facts or just plain incapable of reason.
The Syracuse Post-Standard so far has had excellent coverage of this, along with our friend Brent Axe on The Score 1260. ESPN has botched their own massive story already again, and other national columnists simply do not have the same context and sources that the people in Syracuse have. I remind you to consider that before forming opinions based on other’s opinions, including this notebook entry you currently are reading. Until the entire truth comes out, which I fear we may never know completely, things are not simple or cut and dry. But comparing Syracuse with any other school or any other situation is ridiculous. Unless there is a major new development this will probably be the only comment from the Lawdogs at Orange::44 until the investigation is complete. John and I still received top notch educations at Syracuse, and still enjoy everything about Syracuse. One employee does not represent a University with thousands of employees, nor does it their alumni, many of which are extremely distinguished. Syracuse University will continue to do what it does best; education. The sports programs will continue to succeed as well. This can happen to any school, any business, any employer. I’m sad it happened at Syracuse, and we will have to live with that knowledge. But am I worried about any tarnishing of the Syracuse name? From what I have seen from the university so far, not one bit.
We’ll return to our regular coverage of games and previews tomorrow as well all try to move on.