Fine allegations : Recent developments raise more questions in investigation
Despite what may seem like dozens of revelations in the case against Bernie Fine, Syracuse University students and residents remain frustrated with the lack of credible information about the investigation more than two months after his termination.
SU was thrown into the national spotlight in mid-November when news broke of allegations that the former associate men’s basketball coach had sexually abused a former ball boy more than 20 years ago. Since Fine’s release from the university, multiple developments have allowed the issue to pervade the news — and ultimately everyone’s minds.
Yet little, if any part, of the case has been resolved. Accusations were coming from one direction. And suddenly, two. And three. Then four. But when the third accuser admitted to doctoring emails and the fourth retracted his accusations altogether, the case became more hazy than before. And locals were even more confused than they were in the beginning.
Is Fine guilty, or isn’t he?
‘We don’t know what we’re dealing with here,’ said David Rubin, former dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. ‘One day Tomaselli (third accuser) is a reasonably credible source, the next day he’s not. One day this guy who’s in jail upstate (fourth accuser) is a reasonably credible source, and the next day he’s not. … We don’t have the 2005 university report, which is a crucial document. We don’t know what the federal investigation is going to show.
‘I guess it’s funny after all of these months, and the supposed revelations that have come out, for me to be saying that we don’t know anything, but we don’t know anything. And that’s where we are.’
Rubin, a communications law professor at Newhouse, said it is still too early to tell whether any of the judgments against Fine, and now his wife, Laurie, are true. But after hearing the retractions that were released in the last few weeks, Rubin said the case against Fine is now fairly weak.
Joel Kaplan, also a communications law professor at Newhouse, said though the admissions from the third and fourth accusers may help Fine in the long run, it will do little to change the state of the current defamation case against the university and Jim Boeheim.
With the help of high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, Bobby Davis and his stepbrother, Mike Lang, filed a defamation lawsuit against Boeheim and SU in December. The suit claimed the men’s head basketball coach defamed the alleged victims when he said they were lying about being sexually abused by Fine. Boeheim later apologized for these statements.
Kaplan said Allred’s decision to publicly file Davis’ affidavit Monday was a ploy to make sure the venue of the defamation case remained in New York City. The affidavit accused Laurie Fine of having inappropriate sexual relationships with numerous former basketball players. Allred said she hoped to find one of these players living in NYC so she could argue to keep the case there.
But Kaplan said the salacious allegations against Laurie Fine are just another way for Allred to further embarrass the university and make them settle. He said finding a player residing in NYC wouldn’t be enough to keep the venue there because if the events did take place, they happened ‘just around the road’ in Syracuse.
‘She’s a great lawyer, but her logic doesn’t really make sense,’ he said.
However, Kaplan said even if the allegations against Laurie Fine are true — and he thinks they’re a long way away from being proven — they wouldn’t be illegal. The players were of age.
‘It might be unethical, immoral and all those other things,’ Kaplan said, ‘but they’re consenting. It’s not like the other allegations that this is abuse of minors.’
Whatever the truth may be, students who have followed the extensive coverage say they are irritated with the uncertainty of every development.
Jessica Harris, a sophomore graphic design major, said the twists and turns of the case have been confusing, and she really doesn’t know what to think anymore.
‘I originally thought that Bernie Fine was 100 percent guilty, but with all this new information, I’ve kind of changed my stance on it,’ Harris said. ‘I don’t know what he’s guilty of and what he’s not. He may be guilty of some or wrongly accused of it all — no one knows what’s going on with it.’
It’s because of this confusion that faculty members at Newhouse decided to hold a symposium discussing the case. The event, called ‘When Games Turn Grim: Can media cover sports scandals responsibly?’ will explore the ethics and decisions made by media outlets involved in the coverage.
Kaplan will moderate the first panel and Rubin will speak on the ethics panel later in the day.
Kaplan said while the symposium will be a good place to start journalistically evaluating how and why things happen the way they do, it will not satisfy all unanswered questions.
But for Rubin, not knowing is the most frustrating part.
‘We don’t really know what Bernie Fine did or didn’t do. We don’t really know if his wife was involved. We don’t know what kind of investigation the university did in 2005. We don’t know what the federal government was looking for or what they found or whether they’re going to report. …
‘And I’m beginning to wonder if we’re ever going to know.’
—Asst. News Editor Marwa Eltagouri contributed reporting to this article.
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