Bernie Fine Got Fired And What It Means For Jim BoeheimPosted by mlemaire on November 28th, 2011
When allegations that Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine had sexually molested two ball boys broke nearly two weeks ago, head coach Jim Boeheim wasted no time going on the offensive. He vehemently defended his longtime assistant and attacked the accusers saying they were liars who were only after money. Then, yesterday, Fine was fired by the university after a third accuser came forward and a damning ten year-old taped conversation between the initial accuser, Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife surfaced. Boeheim released a statement last night, and he no longer sounded like the same defiant coach he was when the allegations first broke. In fact, he sounded a lot like a coach furiously backpedaling in an effort to save his job.
“The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling. I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight,” Boeheim said in the prepared statement. “What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”
That is a far cry from what Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard when the allegations first broke. Boeheim was asked eleven days ago about the allegations against Fine and his answer didn’t exactly leave room for interpretation. “There’s absolutely no truth, no validity,” Boeheim told the Post-Standard. “I’ve known Bernie for 40-plus years, and I don’t believe in any way, shape or form he would ever even pat a kid on the shoulder. Is that clear enough?”
By giving such an unequivocal response, Boeheim put himself out on the furthest limb on the tree, and it now appears that limb is about to collapse and may bring down Boeheim with it. There are some reliability concerns about the third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, who is accused of sexual assaulting a 14-year-old boy in Maine and who was called a flat-out liar by his estranged father. But there is also the sordid telephone recording between Davis and Laurie Fine in which Fine not only admits she “knows everything that went on” between Davis and her husband, but also admits to having her own sexual relationship with Davis when he was 18 years old.
The university justifiably was not taking any chances and fired Fine quickly last night, butt even they cannot be naive enough to think that the story will end here. They have an elephant in the room, and that elephant is an outspoken coach who has guided the university’s basketball program to 862 wins and a national championship. That elephant is fifth on the all-time wins list in the sport and has practically become an institution at the University he has coached for the past 35 years. That elephant is one of the most powerful, influential, and well-respected men in an incredibly popular sport. That elephant is also on record with at least three different news outlets as calling alleged victims of an extremely serious crime “liars”.
Boeheim’s regretful apology was the right move, but it also may be too late. This headache could have been avoided if Boeheim had just tried to distance himself from the allegations when they first broke. A simple denial of any knowledge of alleged molestation would have likely left Boeheim free from scrutiny and criticism unless it was proven otherwise, but that simply isn’t Boeheim’s style. Over the years he has developed a reputation for speaking his mind, an admirable quality in a profession filled with coaches who prefer to toe the party line and remain as uncontroversial as possible, but also a quality that could lead to his downfall.
Notable pot-stirrer and controversy hound Gregg Doyel has already said Boeheim should lose his job. And although Doyel’s reputation for starting trouble precedes him, it is hard to argue with his logic. As Doyel points out, Boeheim’s loyalty to his friend is admirable and he can hardly be faulted for not knowing about the alleged accusations if they are true, but as a well-respected coach with a national platform to speak his mind, Boeheim cannot escape from his own accusations he bandied about in the immediate wake of this story.
As Doyel also points out, Boeheim is one of the most powerful and easily the most prominent man in the city. He didn’t just attack the reputation of some alleged accusers, he set the standard for what seemingly became a tidal wave of opposition against Davis and Lang. Go back and read the list of reactions we posted last week. Almost everyone involved in the Syracuse basketball program followed Boeheim’s lead and basically called the allegations a bunch of lies. No one is saying Boeheim actively went around asking these people to speak out in defense of Fine, and they are responsible for their own words, but it is certainly a lot easier to stand out on that limb when someone like Jim Boeheim is standing right next to you.
In the wake of some truly horrible stories coming out of Penn State, Boeheim had the opportunity to lead by example. He had the opportunity to defend his longtime friend’s right to a fair investigation while also condemning the horrors of sexual abuse and child molestation, but he didn’t do that. Instead he inserted himself right into the middle of the story and actually only added fuel to the fire.
Former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson said it best when he told The Daily Orange, “Unfortunately as long as we’re talking about Penn State University and Syracuse University as the stories behind this behavior, and not sexual abuse and why it happens and how we can recognize it, how we can help kids.”
Jim Boeheim had a chance to do just that. As a powerful man with a national platform, he had a chance to help kids and empower victims of abuse to come forward. He didn’t take it, and now it may cost him not only his job, but his reputation as well.