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Syracuse’s PR Machine Gets It Right

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Child abuse is wrong and should never be tolerated under any circumstances whatsoever.

Read that sentence to yourself five more times before continuing on to the rest of today’s post. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

The alleged molestation of two ball boys by SU assistant Bernie Fine left me aghast. Given the proximity in time, it’s natural to compare and contrast the circumstances with what Penn State went through earlier this month, even if the situations aren’t carbon copies of one another. A couple of weeks ago while the madness in Happy Valley was unfolding, a fellow Syracuse blogger on Twitter posed the question of what the reaction would be like if a disaster of similar were to be uncovered on the SU campus. I answered weakly that the possibility still seemed so far out of the realm of possibly to even speculate about how the public would receive it and how the university would act. It’s not that I had my head in the sand; I was still grasping the weight and ever-widening boundaries of the fallout at Penn State.

Until Syracuse’s police department finishes its investigation and releases its findings, only Fine and his accusers, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, will know what happened during a stretch of a dozen or so years, but at this point, I can tell you that that the school’s administration has taken all the right steps to combat the outcry from the court of public opinion that is sure to come as the case is resolved. By immediately issuing a thorough statement addressing the school’s 2005 investigation, condemning such heinous acts and committing to protect the community, the school has acknowledged the gravity of the matter with a police investigation in the beginning stages.

The school went one step further in placing Fine on administrative leave. While this act of proactivity may end up looking like overreaction to some, it is absolutely the right move. If the school were to throw its trust behind Fine and not address his employment status only to see more evidence surface against him, SU’s leaders would never be able to live it down. Given the case study of inaction that PSU has provided, you don’t want to make that gamble, no matter how confident you are that the allegations are false.

And that brings us to Jim Boeheim’s immediate rise to Fine’s defense. He’s pushed every last one of his chips in, throwing his Hall of Fame career behind the trusted assistant he’s known for over 40 years. Over the years, we’ve learned to expect something like this coming from Boeheim. Very few coaches across the country are as candid or opinionated as Boeheim, so to see him give a response within mere hours of the allegations surfacing on ESPN was not the least bit out of the ordinary. His counter-accusation that Davis and Lang fabricated their stories in an effort to cash in may be a bit much, given that the nascent state of the city’s investigation, but then again, I haven’t had Bernie Fine by my side at home and on the road for over half of my life.

If there’s any silver lining to what’s happened at Penn State, it’s that victims of such deplorable acts of immorality, violence and abuse of power will feel more encouraged and empowered to bring up their own experiences. They’ll finally gain long-overdue closure and, depending on the statutes of limitation, send cruel monsters to prison in the process. But another unintended consequence is that a different subset will only see the situation as an opportunity to cash in on the heightened level of public awareness by shaming someone’s good name with baseless rumors. To be frank, that saddens me almost as much as when I see genuine victims coming forward – not because it impacts the reputation of a leader of the team I love, but because it pains me to see that there are people who don’t take child abuse seriously and only approach the raised cognizance from the standpoint of how they can game the system for their own benefit.

As a human, let alone a Syracuse fan, I hope against hope that the latter is what’s going on. I’d love to cling to the fact that prior investigations by the Post-Standard, the school and ESPN collectively turned up no corroborating evidence, but we’ll just have to see where the case takes us from here.

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