When the Penn State sex abuse scandal broke Nov. 6, no one knew that its venerable 85-year-old football coach Joe Paterno would go up in flames. Paterno feigned ignorance of his 67-year-old retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s pedophila—a dark secret kept under wraps during Sandusky’s 30-year tenure at Penn State and 12 years of retirement. Now a similar scandal rocks one of college basketball’s most elite programs, Syracuse University. “At the direction of [Nancy Cantor], Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” said university spokesman Kevin Quin. Fine, 66, served as assistant coach to 67-year-old head coach Jim Boeheim for the past 35 years, drawing the same suspicions as Penn State, namely, what did Boeheim know and when did he know it about Fine’s shenanigans.
New York state child abuse reporting laws are very clear about mandating educators to file reports to child protective services or the police when “suspecting” child abuse. Doctors, child care workers, social workers and educators all operate under strict mandated reporting laws, requiring child abuse reports or face stiff criminal penalties for failing to do so. “The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling,” Boeheim read a prepared statement. “I am personally shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that heave been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate steps tonight,” revealing some glaring inconsistencies. No one should be shocked because they did not “witness” directly child sexual abuse. State reporting guidelines required Boeheim to report any “suspected” incidents, not ones observed directly.
Child abuse reporting laws are specifically written to give children the benefit of the doubt, not the perpetrators. Boeheim’s words were chose very carefully, specifically attesting to the fact he “never witnessed” any improprieties. Like the Penn State situation, if Boeheim heard rumors, had any inkling, heard anything from anyone in the grapevine, he would be obligated under New York state law to report. Boeheim recently called one of Fine’s accusers “a liar” for implicating him for having knowledge of Fine’s pedophilia. “I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to the victims of abuse,” said Boeheim, engaging in some calculated damage control. Boeheim’s backpedaling indicates, like Paterno, that the current University investigation could cost him his job. If Boeheim failed to report suspected abuse, he could be prosecuted.
One of Fine’s accusers, 39-year-old Bobby Davis, holds an audiotape of Fine’s wife admitting her husband had a problem. Recorded by Davis in 2002, Fine’s wife Laurie appears to acknowledge her husband’s sickness. “I know everything that went on, you know. I know everything that went on with him,” Laurie Fine tells Davis on the recording. “Bernie has issues, maybe that he’s not aware of, but he has issues . . . An you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have trusted,” said Fine’s wife on the tape practically admitting the alleged incident. Fine’s attorneys Donald Martin and Karl Sleight told the former asst. coach to remain silent. “Any comment from him would only invite and perpetuate ancient and suspect claims,” said Martin and Sleight. “Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review o the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities.”
Fine’s refusal to speak publicly denouncing any and all sex abuse allegations raise more suspicions. While it’s true legal counsel typically advises against speaking publicly, falsely accused individuals protest loudly their innocence. When groping allegations were recently made against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, he also didn’t protest too loudly. While he mildly repudiated the sex allegations, he did so quietly, suggesting something untoward went down. Speaking publicly would not “invite and perpetuate ancient and suspect claims,” it would put to rest growing doubts about Fine’s innocence. Universities don’t dismiss loyal employees for pure speculation. His firing represents convincing proof of his guilt. If eyewitnesses recall Boeheim catching wind and ignoring the charges, he’s headed for the chopping block. Too many victims have now come forward against Fine.
Reputation management is no easy task when pedophiles lurk in the ranks. Syracuse University President Nancy Cantor must get to the bottom of when Boeheim knew and what, if anything, he did about it. If Boeheim knew something and failed to report, he’s guilty of violating the state’s strict child abuse reporting laws. Whether Davis’ recording is admissible or not, it’s still powerful evidence that something went on. Syracuse officials, from the top down, must assess whether lucrative TV contracts were more important than confronting a scandal and dealing with the fallout. If Boeheim ever discussed Fine’s behavior with the administration, then no one at the university is immune to skirting the law. When you consider the closely-knit nature of most college sports programs, it’s more unlikely Boeheim and his staff heard at least some rumors about Fine’s indiscretions.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.