Right on the heels of the Penn State child sexual abuse travesty comes another claim of child sexual abuse at another major university. Syracuse University assistant basketball coach, Bernie Fine, stands accused of sexually assaulting three boys, starting in the late 1970s and continuing into the 1990s.
What makes this tragedy different from the incident at Penn State is that while Joe Paterno and other Penn State staff chose to turn a blind eye, those close to Fine at Syracuse claim no knowledge of any misconduct whatsoever. Jim Boeheim, head basketball coach at Syracuse, has known Fine since 1966 when they were both students attending Syracuse. When the news of Fine’s alleged crimes surfaced, Boeheim stood by his assistant of the past 35 years. “I’ve known Bernie for 45 years, and there’s absolutely no way that I believe any of this could possibly have happened…That’s the bottom line.”
Former players quickly came to Fine’s defense, publicly vouching for his character. Rony Seikaly, the star center for Syracuse from 1984-1987 said in a phone interview, “…You won’t find one person who would voice anything other than Bernie’s a good guy.” Derrick Coleman, an All-American and No. 1 draft pick in the 1990 NBA draft, posted on his Facebook page, “…I support Coach Fine 100%. In my time at SU and still to this day I’ve never seen any indication of what he’s being accused of.” George Hicker, who played from 1964-1968 and is currently a member of the SU Board of Trustees told the Syracuse Daily Orange, stated “…there is no chance these allegations are right.”
However, Fine’s cheering section was immediately extinguished on Sunday, November 27, when ESPN aired a horrifying taped phone conversation between Fine’s wife, Laurie and the victim. During this conversation, 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.” At that point, Jim Boeheim recanted his vehement support for his assistant.
But this scenario begs the question: how is it possible for abuse to take place for so many years while the people closest to the attacker remained clueless? Surely, there had to be some signs of impropriety? My guess is there were; however, without proper education they went unnoticed.
It’s a fact: predators come in all sizes, shapes, colors and genders. They come from all walks of life from strangers, to relatives, to trusted neighbors, clergy and coaches. Someone you sat next to for 35 years. The greatest, most respected person you know. Since there is not one cookie cutter model in which abusers fall under, our best defense at stopping child sexual abuse and protecting our children is with education. Giving parents and other adults within the community knowledge and tools to combat this epidemic will lead to the prevention of child sexual abuse.
At Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, our mission is to prevent child abuse in all its forms. By working in conjunction with leaders throughout New Jersey, and through education, technical assistance and training of parents and teachers, we are taking steps in preventing child abuse before it ever happens. It is imperative we spread our knowledge and expertise to everyone within the community to end child abuse forever.
Find out what you can do to prevent child sexual abuse by contacting us at 1-800-CHILDREN, or visit us online at www.preventchildabusenj.org.