With his fourth accuser recanting, his third accuser debunked, his second accuser conspicuously low-key and the federal investigation seemingly quiet, it’s time to ponder whether Bernie Fine, the media-lynched longtime Syracuse basketball assistant, is a victim of homophobia, greed and cowardice.
From the outset, the child-molestation allegations leveled against Jim Boeheim’s former senior assistant needed to be viewed with skeptical eyes and ears.
Now, with Floyd VanHooser admitting publicly that he lied when he said Fine molested him as a child, maybe the public and the media are prepared to consider the real possibility that the supposedly damning, secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation between Laurie Fine and Bobby Davis doesn’t reveal what everyone thinks it does.
There’s a chance, as Fine’s wife insinuated on the tape, the “crime” Bernie Fine got away with for decades was living in the closet as a gay man, not child molestation.
Again, I don’t know Bernie Fine. I don’t know what transpired between Fine and his original and lone slightly credible accuser, Bobby Davis. What I know — and what is now becoming quite clear — is Fine has been treated unfairly by the media, investigators and the public.
In the aftermath of the good-for-ratings Jerry Sandusky scandal, ESPN handed Davis a massive platform to attack Fine with a vague and sketchy story about sexual abuse. Then the Worldwide Leader made zero effort to properly expose and frame the complexity of Davis’ relationship with the Fine family. The Syracuse Post-Standard, the local newspaper, piled on Fine by lending its platform to two criminals, Floyd VanHooser and Zach Tomaselli.
The de facto justification for the irresponsible trashing of Fine’s reputation was/is the alleged smoking-gun audiotape in which Fine’s wife chats up Davis about Bernie’s sexuality. ESPN aired the tape as proof that Fine molested Davis as a child.
If you listen to the tape objectively, if you take the time to piece together what we now know, the tape is nothing more than an insinuation that Bernie Fine is gay and/or bisexual. His wife expresses that she believes he’s gay. Bobby Davis claims he engaged in a sexual relationship with Fine. VanHooser now says the only thing he didn’t lie about was having a sexual relationship with Fine as an adult.
Listen to the tape again or read the transcript. Laurie Fine sounds like a middle-aged wife/mother who is justifiably bitter and upset that her marriage is a sham. For the sake of their children and Bernie’s career, it’s quite possible they stayed in their fraudulent, dysfunctional, “American Beauty” marriage. They would not be the first or last to make that decision. And Laurie Fine’s bitterness and unease with the situation would not make her the first or last spouse to occasionally lash out verbally.
Is it really all that shocking that, in a phone conversation with a young man Laurie Fine believes her husband was sexually involved with, her words painted Bernie as a sick sexual deviant who liked young boys?
The tape isn’t a smoking gun. That’s why the Post-Standard and ESPN didn’t run with it in 2003 and 2004. The tape is proof that Bernie, Laurie and Bobby were involved in a complex sexual, financial, emotional three-way relationship that Maury Povich and several lie detectors couldn’t sort through.
The alleged proof of child molestation was said to be found in the additional accusers. They justified the airing of the tape. VanHooser is an admitted liar serving a life sentence who never should have been granted a platform to air his allegations. The Syracuse-area district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, said VanHooser was a liar and that his office had the written correspondence to prove it. Fitzpatrick also turned over evidence he believes proves Zach Tomaselli’s story about Fine is bogus. Plus, Tomaselli is a self-admitted and convicted child molester.
That leaves Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang. Well, Lang, when contacted by the Post-Standard, ESPN and Syracuse University from 2003-05, denied being molested. This year, after catching wind of the Sandusky story, Lang flip-flopped and has told a flimsy and inconsistent time-line story about Fine touching him during the 1970s or 1980s. After two awful television appearances chaperoned by professional ambulance-chaser Gloria Allred, Lang has disappeared from the public spotlight, leaving Davis to fan the flames all alone.
Two weeks ago, Allred, who is representing Davis and Lang in a defamation lawsuit against Jim Boeheim — I’d call it a shakedown — agreed to allow me to interview Davis. About 24 hours before the interview, Allred asked if she could sit in on the interview. I told her I’d prefer that Davis be “unchaperoned,” but that I would not object to her involvement. She took offense to me characterizing her as a “chaperone” and canceled the interview.
The last official thing we heard from federal investigators looking into the Fine allegations is that they had been reduced to opening a tips hotline. As far as we know, no credible accusers of Fine have surfaced. Two criminals — one of whom has admitted to lying — and stepbrothers with highly questionable credibility sabotaged a 37-year coaching career.
What left Bernie Fine so vulnerable?
Homophobia. If he is indeed gay, he couldn’t coach major college basketball as an out-of-the-closet gay man. He would have to keep his lifestyle a secret and, perhaps, in an attempt to land a head-coaching job, construct the perfect American family.
VanHooser and Davis, troubled boys from tough backgrounds to whom Bernie Fine served as a father figure, perhaps learned of Fine’s vulnerability and how to exploit it. VanHooser said he lied about Fine because he was upset Fine refused to pay for a lawyer VanHooser needed to fight a criminal conviction. We know that Davis has used Fine for money previously.
Again, I don’t know what transpired between Fine and Davis when Davis was a child. I don’t believe anything the media have done in the past four or five months has helped us get closer to the truth. If anything, it probably has pushed gay male and female coaches deeper into the closet.