Earlier this month, Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine was accused of sexual molestation by former ball boys Bobby Davis and Mike Lang. Coach Jim Boeheim immediately declared Fine innocent, defending his longtime friend. He also attacked the allegations as "a bunch of a thousand lies" and surmised that the accusers were motivated by financial gain, two damning character attacks.
Boeheim had the right to defend his friend. His counter allegations against Davis and Lang were over the top, but that was Boeheim's right also.
He went all in with Bernie Fine, choosing to take the fight right to the court of public opinion, preferring to not wait for the legal process to play out.
Now comes an explosive and troubling 2002 taped conversation between Davis and Fine's wife, Laurie. It comes on the heels of a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, telling police he also was molested by Fine, in his case in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
Yet, Syracuse University said Sunday that Boeheim "is not commenting further on the subject at this time," which simply isn't good enough. You can't come out that strong at first and then go silent now.
Sunday, ESPN played a tape of a 2002 phone conversation between Davis and Laurie Fine, which appears to confirm she knew Bernie Fine had abused Davis starting when he was a teenager and even that there were other cases.
"I know everything that went on, you know," Laurie Fine said on the tape. "I know everything that went on with him.
"Bernie has issues, maybe that he’s not aware of, but he has issues … And you trusted somebody you shouldn't have trusted … Bernie is also in denial. I think that he did the things he did, but he's somehow through his own mental telepathy has erased them out of his mind."
Later, Laurie Fine states that she believes there were other victims also.
"Do you think I'm the only one that he's ever done that to?" Davis asked.
"No … I think there might have been others but it was geared to … there was something about you," Laurie Fine said.
"Yeah, that's what I'm wondering," Davis said. "Like I'm wondering why I was like the worst one."
"I don't know," Laurie Fine said.
Later, the two discuss that Davis and Bernie Fine never had oral sex.
"I think he would want to, but …" Davis said.
"Oh, of course he would. Why wouldn’t he?" Laurie Fine said.
The story gets even more bizarre. Davis said, and Laurie Fine appears to acknowledge, that the two of them had a sexual relationship when Davis was 18. Davis said he told Bernie Fine about it.
Later on the tape, Laurie Fine appears to explain why she never came forward or confronted Bernie about the abuse.
"Because I care about you, and I didn't want to see you being treated that way …," Laurie Fine said.
"Yeah," said Davis.
"And, it's hard …," Fine said. "If it was another girl like I told you, it would be easy to step in because you know what you're up against. … (When) it's another guy, you can't compete with that. It's just wrong, and you were a kid. You're a man now, but you were a kid then."
The strength of the tape in an actual court of law remains to be seen. It may not be admissible. It may not even be relevant. ESPN aired just chosen snippets of the conversation and Laurie Fine has not come out and explained why she said what she said or the context of the quotes.
You have to allow for the presumption of not just innocence, but of an explanation.
Whether Fine is even charged with any crimes remains to be seen. The Davis and Lang cases could be outside the statute of limitations and don’t appear to be airtight anyway. The third alleged accuser has, at this time, no corroborating evidence, although federal agents raided Fine's home over the weekend.
Fine has denied he ever did anything wrong and survived a previous investigation by Syracuse University.
Legally, this case has a long way to go. It is worth repeating and repeating and repeating that this isn’t the Jerry Sandusky case. That became public after a three-year state police investigation led to the state attorney general and a grand jury charging Sandusky with 40 counts of abuse.
These are just early accusations. The investigation is still in its beginning stages.
That said, just as Boeheim had the right to use his bully pulpit to defend, he now has the obligation to explain his thoughts on the released tape.
It is an astounding listen and one that appears to severely damage the word of Bernie Fine and strengthen that of Bobby Davis. The wife of the accused appears to have confirmed the abuse.
When this first broke, Boeheim said Davis and Lang were lying. He said they were ruining a good man for money. He's trashed them repeatedly to help defend his assistant.
He could've come out and thrown his full support behind Fine, asked for patience to allow the legal process to come out and avoided going after Davis and Lang. That would've been perfectly acceptable.
Instead, he took it further and chose to attack, attack, attack.
Now here's Laurie Fine doing more damage than anything we've heard before. Boeheim set this game up in the court of public opinion, where his voice carries considerable power.
Now as the questions mount, he can't change the rules. What does he say about Bernie Fine now? What’s his explanation for all of this?
- Bobby Davis
- Jim Boeheim
- Syracuse University