Ex-Syracuse hoops coach’s wife sues ESPN for libel

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - The wife of fired Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine filed a libel lawsuit Monday against ESPN, saying the network ruined her life by broadcasting salacious reports that she knew her husband abused boys and that she had sex with one of the boys.

In the 48-page lawsuit, Laurie Fine accuses ESPN of reporting the allegations against her husband in a bid to boost ratings as the Penn State sex-abuse scandal was unfolding. She notes the network had already done extensive reporting into claims made by ball boy Bobby Davis in 2003 and decided not to broadcast anything then because it couldn’t find any evidence to back up his claims.

ESPN in November broke the story of two former Syracuse ball boys, Davis and his stepbrother, Michael Lang, who claimed they were molested by Bernie Fine decades ago. The lawsuit said the network had serious doubts about the story Davis was telling them but broadcast it anyway.

Key to the suit is a 47-minute audiotape of a phone conversation with Laurie Fine that Davis said he made in 2002 in which she says she “knew everything” that went on. Her lawyer, Pittsburgh-based Lawrence Fisher, said the recording was doctored, selectively edited, reported out of context and did not definitively contain Laurie Fine’s voice.

In the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, Fisher says the network knew from its earlier reporting that the tape was “entirely speculative” and “unreliable” but broadcast it anyway.

In the ESPN report, Davis told the network that Laurie Fine had witnessed Bernie abusing him and also said he had sex with her. On the tape, she says she was “with” him because she wanted to be but her lawsuit says “with” meant allowing Davis to live in the Fine household and continue to be a part of their lives for decades.

Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for ESPN, said the lawsuit is without merit and the network stands by its reporting.

Laurie Fine broke her six-month silence last week at a news conference to announce the suit.

“I’m here today as a wife and a mother who has had to endure the trauma of being smeared in the public as a monster,” she said then. “My life has been destroyed.”

She says she has been forced into seclusion, had to sell her house and has been the target of widespread ridicule as a result of the ESPN reports.

Bernie Fine has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged. Federal authorities opened an investigation into him following the allegations of a third man, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine, who has since said he lied. The local prosecutor has called Davis and Lang credible but said the alleged crimes occurred too long ago to pursue.

The accusations from Davis and Lang, quickly picked up by other national media, roiled the Syracuse team’s then-perfect season and brought criticism to Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim. Boeheim initially called Davis a liar out for money, but soon softened his stance.

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