I’m not so sure I understand Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s adamant defense of assistant coach Bernie Fine and the charges of sexual molestation that he currently faces. Of course, in the United States we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that same standard should be used when we evaluate the growing number of allegations against Bernie Fine. At the same time, and especially in the aftermath of the infamous Penn State/Jerry Sandusky horrific story, it’s appalling to see Boeheim come out as confident as he has in his unconditional support of Fine.
First, Boeheim cannot speak with certainty about Bernie Fine’s every human movement over the last twenty years – that’s the obvious. “How does he know what happened at Bernie’s house at night?” Bobby Davis, the alleged victim said on ESPN.
Secondly, how can any of us be certain of anything after learning about the PSU scandal and all the trust Jerry Sandusky had built within the PSU family? That alone prompted a different, more measured response from Boeheim than the unconditional and adamant defense we received.
The better, more responsible response from Boeheim would have been to first recognize and respect the alleged victim’s assertions (which may end up being true), and then speak only to what he knows of Fine as a person. When faced with a direct question about whether Fine did or didn’t molest boys, the only fair and honest answer is I don’t know. He can certainly still be supportive of Fine, but it is only right to acknowledge that there may truly be a victim of the crimes that were alleged.
What Boeheim needs to be reminded of is that no matter how well we “know” somebody, we really never know all of their thinking and behaviors done outside of our immediate company. Of course, this comment is not meant to incite mass paranoia – far from it – but it does suggest that when someone makes accusations of this nature, we should qualify the allegation by being responsible, objective, and supportive toward the process of justice, and more importantly, human rights.
Where Boeheim falls short in his thinking while defending Fine are the following two points:
1.) Victims of horrific crimes like sexual molestation need to be recognized, respected, and helped. Boeheim has instead created a tone of this whole story being a plot-for-money scheme. That leads me to my second point…
2) While it is true that some people have falsely created stories of molestation when in fact nothing ever happened, this is the exception, and not the rule. In fact, there are significantly more people in our country today who have lived in silence, scarred and too hurt and embarrassed to ever come out with their story for fear of even more embarrassment and humiliation – not to mention potential retaliation by the perpetrator. The truth is few people speak out about sexual abuse, so when they do find the courage to they should be taken very seriously.
“I just don’t want it to happen anymore,” Davis told ESPN, breaking down in tears. “A guy that hurt me a lot … he’s hurting people still. I just want him to get help. I want him to stop.”
Personally, I was deeply troubled to hear Boeheim immediately dismiss Bobby Davis’ claims of being molested by Fine. With Boeheim being a man of great admiration in the basketball community, one cannot help but wonder how many sports fans — and possible future jurors — will be falsely persuaded about Bernie Fine before the case is ever heard. Jim Boeheim’s comments were biased, short-sighted, and will likely persuade people to pass negative judgement on Bobby Davis as a money-hungry fame seeker. If Bobby Davis is lying that may not matter, but what if Davis is telling the truth?
Obviously Boeheim wants to protect his colleague and friend, just the same as any of us would if it were a friend of ours in question. The problem, however, is that he is not protecting Fine from just some fan criticism about his play calling, but instead much more serious charges. In fact, with Boeheim supporting Fine as strongly as he has, one could even make the argument that he is not only a potential enabler, but also an accomplice in the crime by purposely directly folks away from scrutinizing Bernie Fine’s character more closely.