These are dark days for the Syracuse basketball program -- and things won't be getting any better immediately. Sunday morning the investigation into sexual abuse allegations against former Syracuse Associate Head Basketball coach took a stunning turn. A taped telephone conversation between Fine's wife Laurie and the man who has accused Bernie of sexually molesting him was played on ESPN's Outside the Lines.
The contents of the tape were so disturbing that the University fired Fine Sunday night. Jim Boeheim released a statement on Facebook of all places supporting the move and expressing contrition for his earlier statements that attacked the alleged victims. As I write this, the media maelstrom is kicking into high gear. The rush to judgement is on. People like Darren Rovell are asking if Jim Boeheim should be fired. It is going to get worse before it gets better, because the only thing that will resolve this matter is the truth. Unfortunately it could take a while to find it.
The ugly, ugly audiotape raises more questions than it answers and in the process throws a 55 gallon drum of gas onto an already burning fire. A week ago the allegations against Fine were serious, but there seemed to be at least a plausible chance they were false. After all, the matter had been investigated by ESPN, the Syracuse Post Standard, Syracuse University and at the very least the Syracuse PD had heard about them.
We had Jim Boeheim screaming from the rafters that Fine was innocent and openly accusing the alleged victims of being motivated by money. Former players were coming out to support Fine from all parts of the globe. Even with the wild histrionics going on between District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick and the Syracuse Police Department, it seemed reasonable to think that the authorities would investigate, a report would be issued, and we'd all know one way or the other what happened.
But of course nothing about this case is reasonable. The tape is the height of insanity and now it appears Fine is not the person he claims to be. The case is so bizarre that were it fiction, it would be laughably bad. So far we've got:
- Allegations of sexual abuse that go back nearly 30 years and were first alleged 9 years ago.
- Three accusers, two of whom are stepbrothers, and a third whose own father says he's a liar -- and has been charged with sexual abuse himself.
- The District Attorney launching a full scale attack on the mayor and a police department that refuses to turn over evidence to him.
- Jim Boeheim calling the first two accuser liars who are out for money -- and then recanting.
- The wife of the alleged abuser admitting on tape that she had sex with the victim.
- The victim telling Fine he had sex with his wife and Fine not really giving a crap.
- The firing of a guy who has been a Hall of Fame coach's assistant his entire tenure.
Make no mistake about it - the loudmouth, flame throwing columnists and sports talk radio personalities will start calling for Boeheims' head because that's what we do in this day and age - take a nugget of information, form and opinion and see who will be the most outrageous and scream the loudest. They will "debate" the issue and jump to conclusions and rant and rave. It's what attracts the most pageviews, ratings numbers and attention.
Gregg Doyel has already started. Gregg wants Boeheim fired because that's the opinion that will get the most people talking about him. He needs to be heard. And if you disagree with him, then you aren't smart enough to understand his point which is that because Boeheim went to far in attacking the victims (which he absolutely did do) then he needs to be fired. Zero tolerance Gregg Doyel. If he lived by the words he preached, he'd have been fired 10 times by now.
So Fine has been fired and that begs the question - where does this go from here? The firing tells us the University thinks he's guilty. Given the contents of that tape -- and the fact that Laurie Fine has told the Post Standard that it is indeed her, there's no plausible scenario that would totally absolve Fine of at least some of the allegations. While you could correctly argue that he got fired for embarrassing his employer and that's enough, we are all smart enough to know that even though he hasn't had his day in court, Bernie Fine looks a lot more guilty than innocent.
There are so many more questions need to be answered - in no particular order, they are:
- Who knew what and when did everyone know it?
- Was there any cover up on any level?
- Are there other victims? If so, why haven't more stepped up? Will they?
- If ESPN and/or the Syracuse Post Standard had this tape in 2003, why didn't they take it to the police?
- What did the Syracuse Police Department do in 2002/03? Why did they not find more information?
- Is the police department not cooperating with the DA because they are trying to cover their tracks from mistakes in the past? Is the DA overreacting?
- If these allegations are true, what exactly did Syracuse University "investigate" in 2005 and why did it not find more information?
- If Bernie Fine is a child molester, how did he make it to 65 years of age before being caught?
How he responds in the days ahead, and what new information surfaces will determine his fate. The statement tonight was a necessary first stop. If there's no evidence he ever knew about Fine, there's no way he should lose his job. Based on his reaction to the initial charges, I don't think there's any way in a million years he thought Fine could be guilty. To date there is no evidence suggesting that he knew anything. If there is evidence, you can bet we will find out. And opinions will once again shift.
Another thing to watch for as this develops is how Boeheim handles the emotional toll this places on him. He's known Fine for 50 years. He's worked with him for almost as long. To find out something this hideous about a friend, after a long lifetime of friendship has to be crushing. He's not a young guy, although at 67 he looks great. He's still feisty and combative, however dealing with this is going to be draining. Explaining to his kids has to be agony. Living with the fact that he may have unwittingly enabled a child molester would weigh heavily on anyone. It's not going to be easy.
There is so much more to come out on this story it's going to be a rough ride getting there. Lives have been altered. Young boys may have had horrible, horrible things done to them. Legacies have been tarnished and a proud program has been stained.....and oh, and by the way -- the basketball season is 6 games old and the team has a chance of being pretty good.
Today was a dark day for Syracuse basketball, and tomorrow and the next day aren't going to be any better. Nothing will get better until the truth is brought to light. It could be dark for awhile.