Syracuse alum reacts to latest sex scandal

November 18, 2011|By Ashok Selvam RedEye blogger

The text arrived Thursday night, instantly sinking my heart.

A Syracuse University sex scandal involving an assistant basketball coach?

Really? Did karma arrive to kick me in the gut?

I had just finished another self-righteous stint on my soapbox, vilifying Penn State and the horrendous crimes of which former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused. I bristled when thinking about a potential cover-up and possible lies. I was furious.

Now, as a Syracuse graduate, I was left to fend off allegations in my own backyard.

A Penn State grad already took a swipe at me: Now you know how it feels.

College basketball has taken on more importance to me in recent years, and with the NBA season in jeopardy, I really looked forward to this year’s season of Orange basketball.

Yes, there are much more important issues at play here than sports or how I spend my spare time.

Two former ball boys, now adults, claim Syracuse Assistant Coach Bernie Fine sexually abused them. They went on camera and told ESPN their stories, saying the abuse started in the late 1970s, when they were teens. Syracuse police were reportedly notified in 2005 and told the one of the ball boys the statute of limitations had expired.

The university, my university, claims it’s done everything right.

They reported the claims to the police. I received an e-mail from Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor sent to alumni saying the school conducted a four-month-long investigation when first notified of the allegations. She wrote that running a successful athletic program does not shield anyone from justice.

Translation? Syracuse is not Penn State, which seems to the measure of the wrong way to handle this kind of situation.

It all smacked of a PR move distancing the school from Joe Paterno and Co.

Syracuse also placed Fine on administrative leave, as Syracuse police continue their new investigation. Good old Penn State provided Syracuse officials with the template of what not to do.

Keeping Fine away from the team seems more of a way to keep him from being a distraction.

The Orange is a championship contender and ranked No. 5 in the country. The NCAA made $636.2 million in revenue on basketball in 2008. That’s more than it made from football, and the school stands to lose money if their program under-performs.

Bears kicker Robbie Gould graduated from Penn State and last week said the alleged crimes there were more tragic because of Penn State’s reputation. Tragedy is tragedy, no matter the surroundings, but today I better understand what Gould was trying to say: It hurts more when something you were a once a part of erodes.

Some of my college friends are wearing orange today as a sign of solidarity. It’s not as terrible as a riot, but I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. That seems naïve.

The only words in Chancellor Cantor’s statement that rang true were “at this time, all we really know is that a terrible tragedy is unfolding for both the accuser and the accused.”

Coaches constantly chant the mantra that sports help build character in young men and women. That’s not always the case, and allegations like these show how children can be taken advantage of when they trust adults to keep them safe.

Is it fair for the spotlight to shine on Fine, as he’s innocent until proven guilty? Forgive me, as the Penn State scandal, with good reason, has shaken our faith as fans. Should I feel better that Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim has spoken with ESPN, the New York Times and the Syracuse Post Standard and defended his friend?

He said the former ball boys lied and want money from a civil lawsuit. I’ve witnessed Boeheim’s rants, and he knows how to use the media and speak his mind. I wonder if he really knows whether his friend and colleague is guilty.

No one has come forward as a witness, which is normal for sexual abuse. The Penn State incident was rare for a number of reasons, including reported eyewitness testimonial.

Meanwhile, reports say ESPN and the local Syracuse Post Standard have known about the Syracuse allegations since 2003. They reportedly interviewed the ball boy and other sources before determining they didn’t want to continue with the story.

There’s a large contingent of Syracuse grads working at ESPN and in the sports media. Guess who interviewed Sandusky on NBC? Syracuse’s Bob Costas.

Much of the sports media act like fans first and journalists second. Were beat reporters afraid to do their jobs and alienate Boeheim and other sources? We’ll never know.

Victims of sex crimes often are reluctant to make reports to police. They’re afraid of embarrassment. We’ve created a culture that laughs at them and sometimes gives more sympathy to the accused.

No doubt, Fine and his family are going through a difficult period, regardless of the merit of the accusations. But he’ll endure if exonerated. For victims of sex crimes, the path to recovery isn’t so clear.

The silver lining to the Penn State charges is that hopefully more victims are encouraged to report sexual harassment and rape. That’s the only positive I can cling to right now, as my head’s flush with spin.

Meanwhile, questions remain, and every time I sit down and watch the Orange play at the Carrier Dome, I’ll be reminded.

But I don’t want the story to go away. If that means people need be fired and our precious basketball program gutted, that’s all right.

That last part was difficult to type, but no one is above common human decency.

I want justice, but right now, I’m not sure what that means.

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