The Syracuse assistant coach who has been placed on administrative leave over allegations that he molested two underage ballboys “hundreds of times” in the 1980s—allegations that Syracuse’s prominent head coach, Jim Boeheim, emphatically denies—is also a founder of the Jewish Coaches Association and was the head coach of the U.S. basketball squad at the 1993 Maccabiah Games.
Bernie Fine, who has coached at Syracuse under Boeheim since 1976, is in the spotlight after one of his alleged victims came forward and told his story to ESPN following the recent revelations over former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s various alleged sexual abuses of minors as well as that university’s apparent massive cover-up, which resulted in the ousters of legendary coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier (who is Jewish).
In many ways, this new incident appears far, far different. For one thing, there is no cover-up by the university: in 2005, it conducted a four-month probe into Bobby Davis’ accusation that Fine molested him, which included the general counsel (whereas Penn State’s general counsel was kept in the dark). In 2003, ESPN and a Syracuse newspaper heard about the allegations, investigated them, and declined to run articles on them, having failed to find sufficient basis for their credibility. There is nothing here remotely like the Pennsylvania grand jury report indicting Jerry Sandusky. And then there is the vigor of Boeheim’s rejection of the charges. “The university investigated this, the university talked to the people he said to talk to; none of them corroborated it,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve known Bernie Fine for 45 years, and there’s absolutely no way that I believe any of this could possibly have happened.” He added that it seemed “a little suspicious” that another accuser, a relative of Davis’, had only just come forward, right after the Penn State affair.
In an email this morning, Jason Belzer, executive director of the Jewish Coaches Association, wrote, “Bernie Fine is a (founding) member of the Jewish Coaches Association. He has a wonderful reputation in our organization, not just for being a great coach, but for the type of person he is. Many of our members know and have worked alongside Bernie for decades, and could attest to nothing but his kind-hearted good nature. He has been like a father and now grandfather to many young coaches in the business.” He added, “The accusations that have surfaced are unfortunate, and the JCA will be watchful as the full investigation unfolds. Until then, we will presume he is innocent.”
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.