Syracuse Sex Scandal: Should ESPN Have Done More About Bernie Fine?

| by Alex Groberman

On the heels of Joe Paterno getting fired for seemingly not reacting appropriately to charges of sexual molestation that were relayed to him, ESPN may soon face similar criticism for their action (or inaction) as it pertains to the Syracuse sex scandal.

In 2003, Bobby Davis approached ESPN with allegations that Syracuse associate basketball coach Bernie Fine had molested him for years. The activity was said to have begun when Davis was serving as a ball boy, and supposedly carried on until he turned 27 years old.

ESPN investigated the story in 2003, but ultimately decided not to run it because there wasn’t enough evidence. They felt as though, barring more victims who could corroborate the story and/or tangible proof that anything had occurred, there was nothing there.

Although a relative of Davis’ also stepped up and accused Fine of similar indiscretions, the validity of the claims was doubted because of the familial relationship between both accusing parties. ESPN wasn't alone in this. As recently as two weeks ago, Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim accused Davis of simply trying to extort Fine.

On Sunday, ESPN released an audio recording of Bernie’s wife, Laurie Fine, seemingly acknowledging that molestation took place during an explicit phone conversation with Davis. The World Wide Leader noted that they had verified that the female voice on the audio did in fact belong to Laurie.

The same day as the audio recordings were made public, as per the Syracuse Post-Standard, a third man stepped forward to accuse Fine of sexual molestation.

Late Sunday, Syracuse terminated Fine's empoyment with the school.

With everything that has transpired since ESPN ran the story on Fine two weeks ago, many are now left scratching their heads as to why the World Wide Leader didn’t do more years ago when the details first came to light.

As noted by Jason Lisk of The Big Lead:

…ESPN knew about it for eight years. And ESPN knew about it when they broke the story ten days ago.

It raises two separate issues. First is ESPN’s role in not addressing this eight years ago, when they did have this independent corroborating evidence from the wife’s statements. These aren’t just ambiguous statements that could be interpreted different ways. She knew. Even if she later denied it when confronted (and why wouldn’t she? She hid it for years and didn’t feel it important enough to say anything) it was pretty powerful stuff.

Second is ESPN’s handling since the story broke. They knew about this recording. They knew it on November 18th. They had to know its impact as part of the story. Did they sandbag here to create multiple news cycles? Not every part of the story emerges at once, but this is a little different than having a story develop, with nuances, after the initial news breaks. That would be what happened when the third accuser came forward, in response to the allegations.

This was information they already had. I suspect they will claim it took time to verify the voice using an expert. Why wasn’t that done before then? And why wasn’t it done at the time of initial reporting, when the evidence was already known?

It’s also worth pointing out that going by the information we have at this point, ESPN initially heard about these accusations at or around the time of Syracuse’s 2002-03 National Championship run. The company has often been chastised by outside parties for their cozy relationships with various schools for the purpose of obtaining scoops and good interviews.

As we learn more and more about the Syracuse sex scandal in the coming days, it’s worth remembering that Paterno was eviscerated by the public for not doing more when he could have. A mere few weeks later, it will be interesting to see if ESPN ultimately faces the same charges.

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