Jim Boeheim – number one and being sued
These should be the best of times for the Syracuse basketball program. The Orange are off to a 10-0 start and are ranked number one in both major national polls. The Orange are set to seriously challenge as NCAA men’s basketball champion during March Madness.
Tuesday, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, who have accused Boeheim’s former assistant coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation, are suing both Syracuse and Boeheim for defamation of character.
In days immediately following Davis’ and Lang’s accusations, Boeheim stood by Fine, a man he’s known since 1963.
“The Post-Standard and the university talked to those other kids (in 2003). None of them corroborated the story, at all. I know some of those kids. They’ve told me, ‘Hey, Coach. Bernie helped me. He cared about me. He knew I needed help and he helped me.
“You need to go to your people down there at the paper. They investigated this for four months. Do they remember that? And they found … what? They investigated this and found nothing. They talked to Bernie’s neighbors and friends … everybody. They found nothing. Your paper would whitewash nothing. Don’t you agree? They had nothing. They could not write a story. They found zero.
“The Penn State thing came out and the kid behind this is trying to get money. He’s tried before. And now he’s trying again. If he gets this, he’s going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I’d say about $50 million. That’s what this is about. Money.”
A great deal has happened since Boeheim said the above. Davis released a recording he made of a conversation he shared with Bernie Fine’s wife Laurie in 2003.
After ESPN released the tapes Fine was fired, and Boeheim tried to apologize to Davis and Lang.
Davis and Lang have hired attorney Gloria Allred who has represented women in sex scandals involving presidential candidate Herman Cain, golfer Tiger Woods and NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal.
“She uses whatever weapons she has, and I think her weapon is the media,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles in a Syracuse Post Standard report. “If you’ve got Gloria Allred on the other side, you have two battles to face: one in the courtroom and one outside the courtroom.”
Allred took the Davis and Lang traveling road show to CNN’s Piers Morgan Show Tuesday night, a show which also featured Jerry Sandusky’s defense team co-counsel, Karl Rominger.
“She’s not just an ambulance chaser — she’s thoroughly well-grounded in the law,” said Cynthia Bowman, a law professor at Cornell University School of Law. “She’s obviously committed to various causes involving gender-based violence, and by that I would include gender violence to boys.”
Davis and Lang aren’t suing Bernie Fine, the man they’ve accused of sexual molestation, but rather Jim Boeheim who angrily fought to defend him.
“Coach Boeheim was the coach of -- and is the coach of the Syracuse men's basketball team. And he made these statements. These false and injurious and inflammatory allegations about Mike Lang and about Bobby Davis, calling them liars, saying that they're essentially motivated by money.
“Those statements were completely false. They really have harmed the reputation of both of them. And especially to call Bobby Davis a liar, that's really accusing him of a crime. Because Bobby Davis reported this allegation of child molestation to the police. And to make a false statement to the police is a crime in the state of New York.” Allred said on the CNN.
Allred says Boeheim’s apology matters not to her clients.
“Too little, too late. And the damage has been done. Because what he said has been carried by nationwide media. And it not only has an impact on Mike and on Bobby, but what about other persons who are child victims of sexual abuse? Doesn't it send them a message that if they dare to step up and tell the authorities, the police, their coach or the university or their school, that they have been the victims of child molestation, that they're going to be having their worst fears realized, that they're going to be attacked by adults publicly and called liars.
“We simply cannot allow this. The university needs to be accountable for what the coach said. And we are within the statute of limitations to bring this lawsuit. And we have brought it.”
As expected, Boeheim and the University are not talking about the case.
Esteemed lawyer and ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack discussed the case on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
"We have the first amendment in this country which protects a lot of free speech, doesn't protect against defamation, but we believe in the idea that people can speak and most of the time speak their mind unless they're defamation. We also have the issue of whether or not people are public figures and if they do they receive less protection under the law. It'd be interesting and difficult to figure out how they were damaged by what Boeheim said, what kind of damages they would be entitled to.
And we can never forget that Boeheim, a couple days later after he had more information apologized for what he said. So I just don't think this is much of a lawsuit that's going to go very far."
Are Bobby Davis and Michael Lang chasing the money?
"Bobby Davis had never heard of Gloria Allred until a few days ago. I don't think he understands the implications of Gloria and what she's known for. So I would say that is not really on his mind or even in his realm of consciousness right now, but it probably soon will be," ESPN’s Mark Schwarz said on "Outside the Lines."
Jim Boeheim might have to pay the price for standing by his friend, and jumping to a conclusion. Cases like this are often settled out of court.
Allred, for her part, seemingly wants to try this in the court of public opinion. That may or may not be a good strategic decision.
It isn’t right that the statute of limitations has expired on Fine and there is little if anything Davis and Lang will ever receive from him. One day there may not be a statute of limitations when it comes to child abuse but that day isn’t today.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick announced that he couldn’t bring charges against Fine last week. He also said both Davis and Lang were believable. Fitzpatrick made heroes out of Davis and Lang; they were and are men of honor, men who are trying to help other victims of sexual abuse come forward. They deserved to be admired and respected.
Davis and Lang are doing what they believe is the right thing.
If their goal was to create greater awareness when child abuse takes place that goal has been accomplished. They were both aware the current legal system wouldn’t allow the prosecution of Bernie Fine. However, Bernie Fine has lost his job, his reputation and will no longer live the life he once led.
Bernie Fine has paid a terrible price for what he is alleged to have done.
From the outside looking in, it does appear Davis and Lang are indeed chasing after the money as Boeheim originally suggested, only it’s not Bernie Fine’s they’re after.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom