- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A fixture on Syracuse’s bench for 36 years, Bernie Fine will be absent again Wednesday night when the men’s basketball team plays its second game since he was placed on administrative leave for sexual abuse allegations.

Following so quickly on the heels of Penn State’s scandal, the Syracuse case has upped the levels of indignation everywhere.

Penn State fans are resentful because Syracuse escaped the broad-brush tarnish that’s been applied to their school. Syracuse fans are angry that the two schools have been lumped together at all on such a despicable topic.

Child advocates are furious with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for declaring that Fine’s accusers are lying and merely looking for a financial reward. Journalists are upset with ESPN for airing such a damaging story without more corroborating evidence.

And, I suppose, Jerry Sandusky has supporters who are mad that he’s already been convicted in the court of public opinion, while commentators are warning against a rush to judgment on Fine.

The two cases don’t demand identical treatment because the circumstances are totally different, namely the 23-page indictment and criminal charges against Sandusky and two former Penn State officials. The grand jury heard from witnesses and victims who described Sandusky’s alleged offenses and multiple accusers have come forward in the aftermath.

Conversely, Bobby Davis had been Fine’s lone accuser in allegations that date to 2002 — charges that were investigated at various points by the police, the Post-Standard newspaper, ESPN and the university itself. None of the sources Davis said would back him up did so, and nothing ever came of his assertions … until his stepbrother, Michael Lang, claimed last week that Fine abused him, too.

Despite the stark differences between the stories, there are disturbing similarities as well.

One is Boeheim’s swift and unequivocal defense of Fine, reminiscent of now-former Penn State president Graham Spanier’s “unconditional support” of two officials who apparently oversaw a cover-up. Another is the incredible, powerful sway that football and basketball have over Penn State and Syracuse, respectively. And a third is the peculiar affinity that Sandusky and Fine have for fatherless, adolescent boys.

I’m the first to admit that the absence of strong, male role models is problematic for children who live under rough socioeconomic conditions. Thank goodness for organizations such as Big Brothers, fraternities and church groups (I’ve worked through all) that try to fill the void with mentoring programs.

There’s no doubt that thousands of children have benefited from committed volunteers expending time, energy and effort for a worthy cause.

There’s also no doubt that some adults with an outsized interest in children not their own have nefarious intentions.

Lavishing youngsters with gifts and trips and insider access to big-time athletic events could be perfectly innocent. But adults who do that shouldn’t be offended when they come under scrutiny; they should insist on close inspection to help root out evildoers.

We can’t determine who they are by looking at them. And no matter how well you (think you) know someone, there’s no telling what goes on behind closed doors.

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