And, lo, the lawsuits begin.
This week, Bobby Davis and his stepbrother, Mike Lang, the men who accused now-former assistant Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse, filed a defamation suit against the Syracuse legend and embattled ball coach Jim Boeheim. Boeheim, if you recall, initially scoffed at Davis’s claims against Fine, saying Davis was money hungry, attention starved. No one should be surprised, though.
For, when Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick announced his office would not be pursuing a criminal case against Fine, this seemed inevitable. (Evidence was substantial, but the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes has now passed.) The accusers would not be getting their day in court, but retribution must be paid somehow, no?
This isn’t really about Fine, however, or Boeheim nor is it about Syracuse. This, friends, is bigger than college basketball, bigger than any sport, really.
It’s a tough call, though, isn’t it? When the sour-tongued Boeheim came out swinging, defending his longtime right-hand-man Fine, he was defending a man close enough to be family. A lot of folks in central New York felt heaps of pride over this, that their man wasn’t going succumb to the onslaught of pressure headed his way. And, of course, when you hear such damning accusations of a close friend, you don’t want to believe it; you want it to be patently false, some sort of character assassination precisely because he’s your friend, someone you’ve always trusted. You want things to go back to just the way they were.
So, Boeheim’s attitude made a bit of sense, but he forgot something fundamental: The sheer power of his words. Jimmy B has lorded over the basketball program since 1976, and before that he played on the team, was an assistant and even coached the Orange’s golf squad. He’s iconic, sculpting young men into professional basketball players, always keeping his team in the national conversation, haunting team after team with that vaunted 2-3 zone. Jim Boeheim is Syracuse, a proverbial mayor in an economically depressed town, with not a whole lot else to root for. And so, the weight of his words often come crashing down like a dislodged moon rock, hurtling toward Earth. When he dismissed Fine’s accusers, calling them money-hungry liars, the sentiment of his words didn’t simply insert itself into moments of idle chatter and then dissipate; it did much more than that. Whether he knew the full story or not –and questions of Fine’s character aside — Boeheim damned these people, marking them as scum, branding them with scarlet letters. He was defending a friend, sure, but in doing so he tarnished reputations. People tend to believe a figure like Boeheim. He’s got a clean track record, an honorable career; he’s a man incapable of being anyone but himself.
As a Syracuse native and graduate, I’d always admired Boeheim’s trademark ornery attitude, feeling a tinge of pride for having such an honest guy at the helm. His post-game press conferences are often filled with a crabbiness that makes Bill Belichick look like your warm, cookie-baking grandmother. But this moment was not a post-game press conference. It was not about the team’s ineptitude at the foul line, nor was it about Scoop Jardine’s on-the-court follies. Boeheim lapsed and forgot that there were human beings on the other end of this whole thing, some that do indeed have legitimate reasons to stand up for themselves. He delegitimized their claims, their confidence. They were made to feel small, their voices dampened.
So, then: does Boeheim deserve to be sued for all he’s worth? Probably not. However, it’s tough. In a world where filing lawsuits are as commonplace as buying a bus pass, I find it difficult to side with anyone looking to put the screws on someone simply because they can. And ultimately, you’ve got to imagine that Boeheim’s legal team will find a way to settle within reason, leaving the accusers without an apology, and Boeheim likely filled with resentment. There is indeed a lesson to be learned, but I don’t think a lawsuit is going to teach it.
Steve Jobs, may he rest in pace, had a penchant for nastiness—he was known for ripping people to shreds over minor hiccups. He even refused an oxygen mask in his final days because he felt its design was subpar. Yet, years prior, a regular Joe emailed Jobs, thanking him for his public support of an organ donation bill up for vote—the guy had lost his girlfriend to cancer a few years prior, and a new liver could have saved her. Jobs responded by saying it was his pleasure and that “life is fragile.” It was deeply moving, to be sure, and a moment that reminded us that we’re all human, even Steve Jobs.
If Jobs, one of the most powerful businessmen to ever live could understand that, than so can we. And so can Jimmy B. Life is fragile. Life is bigger than basketball.
Jake Goldman is a guest blogger for The Global Game where this column originally appeared. Visit The Global Game at: http://theglobalgameworldreport.com/
The opinions expressed are that of the author and not necessarily of The Juice.