WASHINGTON, November 26, 2011—Et tu, ESPN? On Sunday, Syracuse University fired assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine amidst allegations that he had sexually molested several boys over the span of ten years or more.
In an email to faculty last night, Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor wrote, “”All of us have the responsibility, individually and collectively, to ensure that Syracuse University remains a safe place for every campus community member and everyone with whom we interact on a daily basis on campus or in the community as part of our learning, scholarship, or work,” adding, “We do not tolerate abuse. If anything good comes out of this tragedy, it will be that this basic principle is reinforced.”
What is perhaps equally as disturbing is the fact that this is the second high profile case of a college athletic coach accused of assaulting young boys in their care within a three week span. Also, in this case there were media organizations that had the power to help a victim get justice but opted against it.
In 2002, Bobby Davis, now 39, told police that while living in Fine’s home from age 12 to his teens and beyond that Fine abused him on several occasions over the course of a decade. Davis’ step brother 45 year-old Mike Land would later come forward and confess he too was abused.
The case of both men was investigated and dropped by police because the statue of limitations to report sexual abuse had lapsed by then. In New York, the clock starts five years after the victim turns 18 or the case is reported, whichever is earlier.
Davis reported the crime when he was 30 and the clock would have lapsed when he was 22 or 23.
Davis did not give up, however, because he wanted others to know of his ordeal. Hoping that media coverage may help bring his tormentor to justice in the court of public opinion , Davis said he went on a mission to try to get Fine’s wife, Laurie, to admit knowledge of the abuse.
In a chilling and graphic detailed 45-minute telephone call that ESPN released on Sunday, Laurie Fine is heard admitting to knowing about the abuse. Davis recorded that call on October 8, 2002.
Because he made the call in Utah to Laurie Fine who was in New York at the time, the recordings were made legally as in both those states, conversation recording is permitted without requiring dual consent of both parties.
Laurie Fine explicitly admitted to knowing of the abuse, telling Davis:
“I know everything that went on, you know. I know everything that went on with him … And you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have trusted …
“Bernie is also in denial. I think that he did the things he did, but he’s somehow through his own mental telepathy has erased them out of his mind.”
When asked if she thought Davis was the only one, Laurie Fine responded,
“No … I think there might have been others … ”
Davis turned the tapes over to ESPN’s investigative journalism show Outside the Lines which decided rather than expose Fine in a piece, and or at least turn the tapes over to police, to simply sit on them under the auspices of waiting for more proof.
ESPN’s Mark Schwarz tried to explain to news media including CNN last night why ESPN did not turn the tapes over to Syracuse officials or police, saying it wanted to obtain corroborated evidence of the accusations and proof that the voice in the recording was in fact Laurie Fine’s.
Davis also gave the Syracuse Post-Standard copies of the tape. The newspaper, not unlike ESPN, opted against taking further action. Most people listening to those tapes may agree that there was more than enough there to at least alert Syracuse officials.
Not until a second victim came forward last week, did ESPN finally take the audio and a 2003 hidden camera video recording it had of Laurie Fine, to a voice recognition expert to confirm it was Laurie Fine’s voice.
Too little too late, ESPN.
Both recordings were in ESPN’s possession for over eight years. Eight Years? Meanwhile, the five year statute of limitations for a sexual abuse case to be brought against an assailant in New York was continuing to toll, and the tapes could have been used for other victims still within the limitations period but may not have come forward yet. The tapes could certainly had helped others, if there there are others.
This weekend, Zach Tomaselli, 23 of Maine, said Fine abused him when he was 13 outside a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002 the night before a Syracuse game against Pittsburgh University.
So essentially, but for a third victim coming forward this weekend, possibly encouraged and empowered by the PSU Joseph Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal and outrage, ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard may have continued to withhold evidence of a crime and do nothing.
Pete Thame of the New York Times said that Syracuse University told him neither ESPN nor the Syracuse Post-Standard told them they had evidence of Fine’s abuse of boys.
This entire debacle stinks of yet an instance where yet another institution, the sports reporting one, chose to protect an athletic coach over children a coach is accused of abusing. All three alleged victims that have come forward claim abuse before ESPN’s knowledge of corroborating evidence in 2003. However, if any more victims come forward alleging abuse after 2003, ESPN would be certainly on the hook for potentially enabling a known abuser to continue to be on the prowl.
Meanwhile, it was one of the media entities continually shaming Joe Paterno for his lack of action in the Penn State case. Paterno knew of alleged sexual misconduct of a member of his coaching staff and only reported it administratively and did not go to police.
Similarly, here, ESPN and the Post-Standard could have done the minimum and turn over the tapes to Syracuse officials or police, and follow up on the clear and convincing evidence that something was up. Both should have done more to make sure Fine was properly and thoroughly investigated and stopped from abusing any more boys.
These events are culminating into at least two realizations for parents. First, parents cannot trust their children in the overnight or intimate care of any coaching program without arming them with the strength to resist inappropriate contact and to report it to someone if it does occur immediately.
As a commenter on this topic recently shared, it’s not just in sports:
“It’s happening in the schools, in summer camps, certainly in sleep away camps, and in any place where children congregate,” she shared. “Pedophiles go where the children go.
“Citizens must be more aware. Ordinary people must speak out when they suspect or hear rumors. I know we don’t want to report something when it might not be true…but please make the phone call anyway. Tell them it’s only a rumor but that you feel you must report. If they get four or five calls like that about the same pedophile, they’ll take it seriously.”
Second, Davis was savvy enough to coax a witness into admitting knowledge of the abuse and to produce corroborating evidence and do so within the confines of the law. Perhaps these incidents may spur a new form of vigilante justice. Those who are currently being sexually and physically abused or have been in the past and living in single party consent States may start doing the same as Davis and try to coax and record their assailants or witnesses to the abuse admit to it on tape as well.
Perhaps that may be their only option if that is the standard police, some sports media and others in position of authority to do something will impose on them. They’d have to take proactive steps on their own. It is a bad precedent and horrible public policy case that victims in cases like these have such a high hurdle to climb.
Granted vigilante justice is usually not advised as it is said people should never take the law in their own hands. But in cases like these when over and over again, the law fails young people, what other options do they have?
Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at Jeneba Speaks and Politic365. She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.
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