The last few weeks have not shown the Salt City at its best
Let me make an attempt at understatement: This is not Syracuse’s finest hour.
Our police department appears before the nation as incompetent and petty. Our district attorney parades before the national media as an anger management case. Our basketball coach, in his zeal to defend a friend, attacks and intimidates those who have ventured to accuse that friend of a crime. And the tape of Laurie Fine—that just makes us all ill.
Yet there was a moment when, with the world focused on the ugliest side of who we are, we had a chance to show that we were better than all that. We failed.
It was Tuesday night, Nov. 29, at the Carrier Dome. All those antenna trucks were parked outside the Dome, Anderson Cooper was snooping around in the Fines’ trash, and pictures of federal agents at the Fines’ DeWitt household were all that people around the country were hearing about our town. With the sting of what happened at Penn State still fresh in the minds of the nation, we insisted that comparisons to those events—in which a coach has actually been charged with crimes—were not fair.
And then Jim Boeheim entered the arena to a standing ovation.
A standing ovation is not the proper response to this moment. It is alleged that young men have been grievously harmed. It appears that the adults they turned to for a hearing let them down. Whatever we learn about the Fine case in the future, what we already know about how the institutions in our community responded gives us nothing to applaud.
By standing and defiantly clapping for Boeheim, fans may think they are sticking it to ESPN, but instead they are only inviting unflattering comparisons to Penn State.
Does anyone remember the moment of silent prayer at the first Penn State football game after Jerry Sandusky’s arrest? Different situation, in that Bernie Fine has not been charged with a crime, but that level of seriousness and solemnity said something about the people of State College. Just as the raging applause for Coach Boeheim says something about us.
Boeheim is really a sideshow. Jim Boeheim is a basketball coach, one focused on his game to the exclusion of almost everything else. On some matters, this basketball coach doesn’t get it. That was true before his assistant coach was accused of child abuse, and it will be true, one suspects, for all eternity. He is a basketball coach.
Nancy Cantor is a widely respected educator. By all accounts, she gets it when it comes to a variety of issues. From her pronouncements we should expect Cantor to stand for what is right in this case. But what has Cantor actually done in the case of Bobby Davis vs. Bernie Fine? When we look closely, we can argue that she is ultimately the one responsible for letting the problem or the uncertainty fester for as long as it did.
During her first full year as chancellor, 2005, Cantor learned of the charges against Fine, charges which, if proven, amount to a crime. An allegation of a crime was brought to the head of the university, and what did she do with it? She did not report it to law enforcement.
Some argue that the police had already declined to investigate, or that the statute of limitations had run out. True enough. She didn’t go to the sheriff, didn’t go to the feds or the district attorney. As far as we can tell, she didn’t prompt the accuser to do anything like that either.
Instead, she ordered an internal investigation. A lengthy, maybe exhaustive, review, but still, a secret review of the facts, accountable to no one outside the Orange bubble. And in the end she did nothing with those facts. This was done to protect the reputation of Bernie Fine, and, one might cynically conclude, the reputation of the university.
But what was done to protect a potential victim? What was done to assist a young man who was taking on an institution a thousand times more powerful than he? What was done to protect other young people who might be harmed in a similar way?
Here is a question I have tried to pose to Chancellor Cantor: Two weeks ago you said Bernie Fine was under investigation for alleged sexual abuse and that he had been placed on administrative leave. Presumably a reason for putting him on leave was to keep him from having an opportunity to harm other young people. Why, then, when the investigation was launched in 2005, was Fine not placed on administrative leave? Why was he left in that position, with access to young children, while the investigation dragged on for four months?
The university has not returned calls nor responded to emails asking this question.
Failing to take that step in 2005 casts doubt on any claim that the university is being transparent today or that the university is capable of investigating itself. It reinforces the view that they respond only when they can no longer avoid public scrutiny. On Nov. 18, when the world learned what she knew six years ago, Cantor offered this statement: “We know that many question whether or not a university in today’s world can shine a harsh light on its athletics programs. We are aware that many wonder if university administrations are willing to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing that may disrupt a successful sports program. I can assure you I am not, and my fellow administrators are not.”
With all the focus on Boeheim, why has Cantor avoided public scrutiny to date? Is it because so many of our power elite fear, with justification, that much of our region’s hoped-for revival rests on her shoulders? Is it because we can’t imagine that she would display the same sort of weakness that allows so many good people to turn away from that which they wish would just go away?
It is hard to make the case for conducting an internal investigation. If this was anything other than a crime of a sexual nature, would there be any doubt that the authorities would be called?
There is no excuse for not removing the alleged perpetrator from the opportunity to offend. This was, after all, 2005, years after the Roman Catholic Church sex scandal came to light. If anyone learned anything from that sordid affair, it was that sexual abuse is not to be treated as an internal issue, but as a crime.
If a bishop in 2005 had behaved in the way the chancellor did, and we were finding out six years later, the outcry would be heard all the way to heaven and back.
Nothing to clap about. o If you’d like to comment on this, or other articles, go to www.syracusenewtimes.com and comment at the end of the article.