Contrite Boeheim commits to child abuse awareness

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Two weeks after vilifying two former ballboys who accused his longtime assistant of child molestation, Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim said Saturday he’ll campaign against child abuse even though he knows his motives will be questioned.

“We believed in helping kids long before this. I’m sure people are always going to question why you do something, but we’re going to do this and continue to do it,” Boeheim said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “We don’t do it for what people might say.”

The comments came a day after a postgame press conference in which a drawn-looking Boeheim apologized in a halting voice for initially disparaging the men who accused Bernie Fine of molesting them as minors. Fine has denied the allegations.

A few people had called on Boeheim to resign or be fired when the accusations first surfaced, and he was criticized as callous for saying the accusations were lies motivated by money.

Boeheim first softened his stance earlier this week. After Fine was fired Sunday, Boeheim released a statement saying he regretted any statements he made that might have been “insensitive to victims of abuse.” Then on Tuesday, Boeheim apologized but said again he didn’t regret defending his old friend based on the information he had at the time and said he had never worried about his job status in 36 years.

By Friday, he was far more contrite.

“I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made,” said Boeheim, who paused frequently during a postgame press conference. “I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused.”

Boeheim and his wife, Juli, spent time Thursday at the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse. He said they want to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of child abuse.

“We’re going to try to do this because it’s our community, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” Boeheim told the AP.

He insists the marked shift in his public statements over two weeks is real and not being scripted by the university’s chancellor or other outside forces.

“I think in some ways it definitely is genuine,” said Nick Caneo, a 19-year-old sophomore studying economics, said of the center visit. “But on top of it, it definitely is a PR thing,”

Mark Grimm, an adjunct media professor at Siena College, said he was shocked by how unprepared Boeheim was Tuesday night.

“Clearly, he took a radical turn between the Tuesday and Friday press conferences. There’s no question. He was in over his head there for a while,” Grimm said. “They give him a standing ovation when he walks in the Carrier Dome, but remember, these are hard-core Syracuse fans. The whole other community _ many of them are appalled.”

University spokesman Kevin Quinn declined comment.

Boeheim is easily the most recognized person in this upstate New York city of 145,000 and the public face of Syracuse University. Forbes magazine puts the worth of Boeheim’s squad at $17 million, eighth best in the NCAA, while the industry research group SportsOneSourceGroup says the team probably accounts for $40 million a year in merchandise sales.

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