- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Lawyers seeking the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed by two former Syracuse University ball boys who alleged sexual abuse argue that head basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s combative comments were merely blunt opinions laced with “rhetoric and hyperbole.”

Bobby Davis and Michael Lang claim Boeheim defamed them by saying they were liars out for money after their allegations of abuse by former assistant coach Bernie Fine surfaced in November. The pair, who claim Boeheim knew or should have known about the abuse, are suing the school and Boeheim in state court in Syracuse.

In papers filed Tuesday asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, lawyers for the defendants argued that Boeheim’s statements fall within his constitutional right to express opinions.

Boeheim’s words reflect his passionate advocacy on behalf of his colleague Fine and himself, in light of the implication that he somehow knew about Fine’s alleged abuse of plaintiffs,” lawyers argued.

Boeheim supported his longtime assistant when the accusations initially broke, calling Davis a liar and opportunist looking to cash in on the publicity surrounding the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Boeheim later apologized amid criticism from victims’ rights advocates.

The lawyers noted Boeheim’s professed lack of personal knowledge of the alleged abuse and “his well-known reputation for bluntly expressing himself.” Expressions of opinion “no matter how offensive, cannot be the subject of an action for defamation,” they argue.

Davis, 40, and his stepbrother Lang, 45, claim Fine repeatedly forcibly touched them in the 1980s. Fine, who was fired, has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged. Federal prosecutors are investigating Fine.

Gloria Allred, the well-known lawyer representing Davis and Fine, declined to comment.