Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim is facing intense criticism after he supported his former assistant coach, Bernie Fine, by publically attacking two men who claimed they were sexually abused by Fine when they were children. Initially, Boehiem accused the two men of lying about being sexually molested and suggested they were making up their accusations for money. After a third man came forward saying Fine of sexual abused him as a child, Boeheim changed his tune. Rather than continue attacking the alleged victims, Boeheim issued a written statement apologizing for his remarks and called for a full investigation. Some are demanding Boeheim resign or be fired, as occurred with Penn State Coach Paterno following the sex abuse scandal involving his former assistant coach. However, even assuming Fine is guilty of sexual molestation, should Boeheim be punished like Paterno?
In the Penn State sex abuse scandal, Coach Paterno was reportedly told his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused a little boy in the football team's shower. Rather than immediately report the matter to police, Paterno reported the matter to Penn State's Athletic Director and did nothing further. As result of Paterno's failure to do more, Sandusky was allegedly allowed to continue sexually abusing more children for years to follow.
Like Sandusky, assistant coach Bernie Fine is accused of molesting young boys. However, unlike Paterno, there is no evidence thus far Boeheim had any knowledge that his assistant coach sexually abused children--let alone sexually abuse children on campus while continuing to enjoy an office on campus. This is the critical difference between this case and Penn State. There is no evidence to date that Boeheim knew or should have known Fine was molesting young boys.
If there is any wrongdoing by Boeheim, it is the way he initially handled the sexual abuse allegations against his former assistant coach. Boeheim came out strong in defense of Fine. To the extent he truly believed Fine did nothing wrong, Boeheim should have simply said Fine is a terrific guy who, in his view, and could never harm a child. Instead, Boeheim took it much further. He attacked Fine's accusers calling them liars.
If Fine's accusers are telling the truth, Boeheim's own accusations against them are deplorable. Summoning the courage to come forward about being sexually abused as a child is traumatic enough. To endure being called a liar about being sexually abused is unfathomable. However, even if Fine is proven innocent, Boeheim's decision to publically attack the alleged victims (when the truth is still uncertain) could deter many real victims of sexually abuse who are already afraid of coming forward. In that way, Boeheim's public attack on the men who came forward in this case is wrong. Whether Boeheim's subsequent apologies are enough to save his job remains to be seen.
CBS, Sexual Abuse Support Group Wants Boeheim Out At Syracuse, November 29, 2011.