The major focus in the disturbing child molestation story involving former Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine story is rightly on his alleged crimes. Those alleged crimes were brought more into focus thanks to a report on Outside the Lines featuring excerpts from a bizarre leaked phone call during which Fine’s own wife seemed to implicate him in the molestation of former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis, and during the report, Davis said he had a sexual relationship with Fine’s wife. It’s about as twisted, lurid, and disturbing a story as anyone could imagine, and it deserves scrutiny.
But there’s another aspect to the story – one that involves ESPN itself. When ESPN first started reporting the allegations against Fine, it noted that it was first approached by Davis in 2003. However, it never ran the story or released the contents of the tape due to a lack of supporting claims and evidence. Now, though, with the release of the seemingly damning tape – as well as OTL’s Bob Ley saying that ESPN was provided with the audio tape “at that time” – people are wondering: why didn’t anyone go to police? There was a 2005 investigation into Fine that turned up nothing…partly because the audio tape was not provided to authorities.
Child molestation – which this was, according to the accusations – is an especially awful crime, with especially vulnerable victims. While in general a media organization would be expected to influence a potential story as little as possible, it’s different here. And so this morning on his radio show, Dan Patrick, always leery of ESPN, wondered: how did no one notify police? He was unmoved by the potential reasons for not doing so:
Jason Lisk at The Big Lead had questions too: namely, why didn’t ESPN talk about this audio recording sooner, if they knew about it years ago? We contacted ESPN to get their response to these questions, and will update this post when we hear back. UPDATE: Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news, talked about ESPN’s coverage of the story here. Notable quotes include Doria on not taking the case to police:
It’s not necessarily the journalist’s role to go to the police with potential evidence that at the time we didn’t believe was strong enough to report ourselves.
We also were aware at that time that Bobby Davis had gone to the Syracuse Police in 2002 and told them about these allegations and he had been told by them that the statute of limitations had expired. So we were fully under the impression that the police had been made aware of the story and had decided not to pursue it.
…and on why the contents of the recorded call weren’t made public when they originally received the tape:
When we had the audio in the past we had never been able to confirm that it was Laurie Fine. Part of it was we had no independent video of her and her voice – something we could look at and say, “Yes, that’s her and yes, that appears to be her voice.”
The rest of the original post is below.
For now, we’ll say this: this is a disturbing story on many levels, and the most important questions are about what Bernie Fine did. But questions about how the story came to be are legitimate – especially when the topic at hand is as serious as child molestation. And if Fine did what he’s alleged to have done and was able to keep his job until yesterday, any answer to questions about why the full story didn’t come to light sooner will be hard pressed to satisfy.
Getty photo, by Jim McIsaac, headline photo via.