Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bernie Fine – a life ruined

How much is a man’s life worth? How much is a person’s reputation worth? The life of Bernie Fine changed forever on November 17, 2011 when Syracuse University placed Fine on “administrative leave” following an ESPN report Fine had allegedly molested Bobby Davis and Mike Lang two former Syracuse University basketball ball boys, in the late 1970s through the 1990s. Ten days later on November 27 Syracuse fired their long-time associate head basketball coach.

Friday the United States Attorney announced that no charges will be filed against Fine after an investigation that lasted nearly a year. Exonerated for allegations that proved to be baseless, the damage that was done to Bernie Fine will NEVER be corrected. A life has been ruined; a friendship destroyed, a marriage likely in tatters -- the media playing a key role in being so quick to judge, so quick to crucify, and by all appearances a good man made to feel worthless.

Fine’s life unravelled in the days and weeks immediately following the indictment of former Penn State associate head football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky who has since been convicted of child molestation was indicted on November 4, 2011. Days following Sandusky’s indictment Penn State University fired Joe Paterno. Paterno had been Penn State’s head football coach for 46 years. Paterno died in January months after a legacy Paterno had built over a lifetime destroyed.

The difference between what happened at Penn State and what unfolded at Syracuse makes the Bernie Fine story, a cautionary tale of what happens when people and especially the media are too quick to judge.

Sandusky’s indictment and trial ended in the charges being proved in a court of law. Jerry Sandusky had his day in court. Penn State hired Justice Louis Freeh to conduct an internal investigation into who knew what at Penn State relating to Jerry Sandusky and the lewd acts Sandusky committed. Freeh released his report in July; Freeh concluding Penn State’s key leaders including the late Joe Paterno actively participated in covering up Sandusky’s despicable actions.

In Bernie Fine’s case a rush to judgement ended in Fine who attended Syracuse in the 1960’s as a student, serving as the basketball’s team’s student manager during the four years Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim starred in the backcourt along with fellow Basketball Hall of Fame member Dave Bing seeing his life ruined. Boeheim hired Fine in 1976.

When Fine was fired by Syracuse on November 27, Fine and Boeheim homes were side by side, two men teammates at Syracuse and friends for more than 50 years. Fine who still lives in Syracuse has moved away from Boeheim.

In an interview with ESPN on November 17, 2011, head coach Jim Boeheim responded to the allegations of abuse by Bobby Davis as "it is a bunch of a thousand lies he has told." He went on to tell ESPN, "What are people looking for here? I believe they are looking for money. I believe they saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money. That is what I believe. You want to put that on the air? Put that on the air."

In 2005 Syracuse University conducted an investigation into after learning of the allegations Davis had made. "At the end of the investigation, as we were unable to find any corroboration of the allegations, the case was closed."

The life that Bernie Fine knew ended on November 27 when ESPN released a tape of a phone conversation Davis had with Fine’s wife Laurie that Davis recorded in 2002. In the recording, ESPN says Laurie Fine can be heard saying "I know everything that went on with him...Bernie has issues, maybe that he's not aware of, but he has issues... and you trusted someone you shouldn't have."

Fine was fired that day, Boeheim recanted what he had said about Fine ten days earlier, ball game over, life ruined.

What has taken place since November 27 offers a sobering look at both the power of the media and what can happen to someone to someone who gets caught up in allegations that proved to be groundless.

On December 13 Bobby Davis and Mike Lang file a lawsuit against Syracuse University and coach Jim Boeheim. Their Attorney Gloria Allred claimed at the time that after repeatedly telling the world that Davis and Lang were liars, it was time for the university and Boeheim to be held accountable.

Those charges never saw the light of day – dismissed.

Floyd "David" VanHooser and Zach Tomaselli alleged Fine had molested them both later admitted they had lied.

Bernie Fine experienced a full frontal assault in the days, weeks and months following the charges first being reported and his subsequent firing.

Once the lawsuit against Boeheim was dismissed and VanHooser and Tomaselli admitted they were lying, media interest in the story ended. The media followed the story but weren’t as interested in the story.

ESPN the self-proclaimed worldwide leader went from placing their investigative department on the story, including focusing an episode of their award winning investigative series “Outside the Lines” to largely ignoring a story they had played a large role in creating.

A failed lawsuit against Jim Boeheim and the school, two accusers who admitted they had lied, Bernie Fine never been charged with anything the media did nothing more than report the news Friday charges would not be filed against Fine.

ESPN and The Syracuse Post Standard used resources in covering (creating and driving) the story reported what took place Friday, nothing more than that. Neither publication offered any content that examined the roll they played in Bernie Fine’s fall. There were no apologies offered to Bernie Fine.
There was no attempt at trying to admit the role the media had played in ruining a person’s life.

The media reports the news, has a responsibility to do just that. The media wasn’t wrong telling the Bernie Fine story – they were reporting a very big story as it unfolded. A year later especially with Bernie Fine NOT being charged with anything the story has lost most of its color, the excitement and worthiness.

If Bernie Fine had been indicted the ESPN, The Syracuse Post Standard and media organizations would have focused a great deal of attention in the Bernie Fine story. Instead the story is yesterday’s news, much to do about nothing. Ask Bernie Fine if this story has next to do about nothing. Bernie Fine isn’t facing any criminal charges but his life is finished, a legacy he built over a lifetime is gone, no one will ever look at Bernie Fine the same way again, to Bernie Fine this is about how his life was taken away from him.

Bernie Fine hasn’t said anything since Friday’s announcement; his lawyers did release the following statement: "Although we are not surprised by the decision of United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York to close the investigation against Bernie Fine without any charges, we greatly appreciate his decision to publicly announce that decision."

"The damage inflicted upon Bernie and his family is simply immeasurable. Bernie deeply appreciates the tremendous outpouring of support from friends, family and the community throughout this difficult time. Bernie hopes and prays that the lesson learned and remembered is that a rush to judgment has irreversible consequences."

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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