Nov 15, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
This news dropped on a Friday morning, and given the attention elsewhere (see Petraeus, David), it didn’t go beyond the sports sections nationwide.
A year of investigation, more than 130 interviews and 100,000 documents later, the FBI decided that no charges could be brought against Bernie Fine – the same conclusion that was drawn by Syracuse University, Syracuse police and the Onondaga County DA’s office when charges of sexual abuse against Fine were leveled in 2005.
Of course, the first time around, matters were done in a quiet, private matter, the details never leaking out. Not so much with the second time.
You all remember what it was like a year ago. Fine, Jim Boeheim’s long-time assistant on the SU basketball bench, saw his life, reputation and career forever ruined by….a couple of old accusations and a tape of a conversation between one of the accuser’s and Fine’s wife, Laurie.
Note something here? No indictments, no trial, no convictions, no appeals, just a few claims of abuse and, voila, Fine was done for, branded forever.
Those few brave souls who possibly suggested that the facts did not add up, or even dared to question the accuser’s motives, were equally tarred and feathered. Boeheim nearly lost his job. A season that saw SU go to no. 1 in the national rankings carried a deep, long shadow.
The hysteria was understandable, but with Fine officially cleared (again), it’s time to call out the vast amount of irresponsibility that this case exposed.
All of this took place for one simple reason. ESPN had completely missed the boat, dropped the ball, pick your analogy, in the matter of Jerry Sandusky. The Worldwide Leader forgot about the long, deliberate, careful manner in which Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s office gathered up the list of charges and victims before it made anything public.
Once that happened, and once Penn State was shamed, the next step was clear. If anyone, in any sports setting, had a story of abuse, they were going to get aired, regardless of validity or statutes of limitations.
You know the rest. Media hordes camped out in front of Fine’s house. Columns and commentators, overflowing with self-righteousness, castigated everyone in sight, especially Boeheim. The vitriol, even from some in our community, was nonstop.
And then…..two previous Fine accusers claimed they made up their stories of abuse. Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, the main accusers, also went silent. Months passed, the investigation dragged on, and ultimately ended with Fine legally exonerated, but professionally ruined.
This is not to say that SU was wrong in firing Fine. As a private institution, they can hire and fire whomever they want, and given the hysteria this caused, it’s difficult to fault the university for acting in the way it did….and then, admirably, not going further, despite the outcries.
The takeaway from this whole saga is twofold. One part is aimed at our profession, which never seems to learn from its excesses and desire to make waves, even at the expense of finding out the whole truth.
It’s quite telling that ESPN, after spending weeks and all kinds of air time trumping up the Fine accusations, dismissed with the end of the case in a matter of hours. To heck with the damage it caused, once attention and ratings and site hits are achieved, move on to the next controversy.
Wait a minute here. What about responsibility? What about admitting, at the very least, that the accusations against Fine deserved a fair amount of scrutiny? People already have a general, and widespread, mistrust of the media, and part of it is because we never, ever like to admit that we might be wrong about anything. Once in a long while, a little humility is called for.
And the other part of this story is even more troubling. The iffy nature of the accusations against Fine might keep those legitimately abused from stepping forward, either to law enforcement or to advocacy groups like Vera House, and telling their stories, because people might not believe them.
I hope, and pray, that this does not happen. Conspiracies of silence protected abusers for far too long, whether in the Catholic Church, or the Boy Scouts, or with “people” like Jerry Sandusky. If we don’t protect children, or anyone that’s been abused, we are abandoning a fundamental responsibility of a civilized society.
More than a year after the first ugly cycle of charges against Bernie Fine saw daylight, the irony is that we aren’t even close to enlightenment, nor are we likely to ever know the whole story. If only we were so cautious in the first place.