Lesson to take from Fine mess

The harshest lesson for a do-gooder to accept is that the very people he/she assists are the very people most likely to harm the do-gooder.

It’s my suspicion that Bernie Fine, the former Syracuse basketball assistant, spent the past year reflecting on the cliché that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Fine lost his job, his good name and the life he knew for three decades because two men he helped when they were kids and young adults seized what they thought would be their opportunity to exact revenge from Fine for cutting off his assistance.

It’s not difficult to understand what happened to Bernie Fine, who was under federal investigation for child molestation the past year, thanks primarily to the childish, overzealous, gossipy reporting of ESPN’s Mark Schwarz.

Schwarz, ESPN and The (Syracuse) Post-Standard gave Bobby Davis and his reluctant half-brother, Mike Lang, a national platform to punish Fine for cutting off his charity. Schwarz, ESPN and The Post-Standard had their own motives — a desperate attempt for journalistic credibility and relevance — for airing Davis’ impossible-to-prove, hard-to-believe and flimsily told allegations of “child molestation” that carried on until Davis reached age 27.

On Friday, federal investigators ended their probe into Fine. They could find no sustainable corroborating evidence that Fine is/was a child molester. The raising of the white flag on a yearlong investigation does not exonerate Fine, but it does spotlight the media’s poor handling of the bizarre case.

If you’ve read my column over the past year, you already know how I feel about the shoddy work displayed by Schwarz, ESPN, The Post-Standard and the good-old-boy, circle-the-wagons media (Dave Kindred, Richard Deitsch, etc.) that never legitimately criticized and/or questioned ESPN’s juvenile and dangerous reporting. The fact that Schwarz remains employed by ESPN tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the integrity of the mainstream media. We have little. We don’t learn from our mistakes. The journalists who piled on the Duke lacrosse players years ago never paid a price or offered an apology for their negligence. The same scenario will play out in the Fine case.

But I digress. This column isn’t supposed to be another castigation of the irresponsible media clowns who assisted Bobby Davis in ruining Fine’s life. This is a column warning you, the readers, to be careful about whom you help and how you help people improve their stations in life.

For the past year, many of my friends and peers have asked what made me suspicious of Bobby Davis’ and Mike Lang’s story beyond the half-baked, mumbling, brief way they told it on ESPN.

I’m a do-gooder. Have been my whole life. I believe it is our calling in life to help people who have less than we have. Helping people close to you — whether they’re old or young, family or friend, male or female — is very dangerous. When you decide you’ve given enough help and it’s time to move on, there’s a 50-50 chance the person you’ve assisted is going to turn on you. Hell, it might be 70-30.

From the moment I heard Bernie Fine and Bobby Davis had a dispute about money Fine loaned Davis, I assumed the Fine-Davis story was far more complex than the sinister, one-sided story ESPN portrayed. Anytime you turn the welfare off there’s going to be trouble. People are capable of weaning themselves off welfare, but they react very poorly when the welfare is shut off, regardless of the amount of warning.

As a journalist, a broadcaster, a dating companion, a concerned family member and friend, I’ve helped numerous people throughout my adult life. I’d estimate half of them have reacted despicably when the help stopped for whatever reason. That is not written to portray me as some sort of angel. I’m clearly not. The highly public mistakes I’ve made that have revealed my lack of sensitivity and maturity are a fair indication of what I’m like in my private life. I’m horribly flawed. But I’ve never been so flawed that I deserved the kind of groundless accusations that have been leveled at me throughout my career.

I’ve had at least a half-dozen former friends and/or colleagues claim responsibility for being the brains behind the words in my column. A former friend who I don’t believe graduated high school and spoke English like Mushmouth from the Cosby Kids left repeated messages on my voicemail at work and home for years complaining that I owed him for supplying me column ideas. A family member I helped for more than a decade ripped me in writing for wasting money on a girlfriend when I could be using the money to help her. The very broadcasters and journalists I helped the most during my 16-year run in Kansas City are the ones who have the harshest, most inaccurate things to say about me now.

I’m not whining. I have a good life, good family and friends and a good career.

But helping people is high risk. There’s a thin line between love and hate. And when people cross that thin line, they’re capable of saying anything and everything.

That’s why I never heard the infamous Bobby Davis-Laurie Fine telephone conversation as an indisputable smoking gun. Both parties have a love-hate relationship with Bernie Fine. Bobby saw Bernie as the disappointed adoptive father who was ending their relationship. Laurie struck me as the disappointed wife and mother trying to survive the grueling marathon of a marriage that lost its sexual passion. There are a thousand different ways to interpret that tape. Anyone who has been through a divorce or the termination of a relationship that lasted more than four or five years knows that whopping lies get told in toxic relationships.

We’ll never know the full story of what transpired between Bobby Davis and Bernie Fine. I don’t pretend to know. What I know is we should try to help our fellow man/woman from a safe distance.

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