This past week has been an interesting time to be a Syracuse University alumnus. In the wake of the Penn State scandal, we had three different people step forward and accuse long-time Syracuse Orange men’s basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine of molestation. The university first put Fine on administrative leave during the pending investigation and then eventually when the media and community pressure grew to be too much, they fired him.
Head coach Jim Boeheim originally stood by his friend and went on the attack against the accusers saying, “I believe they saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money.” Regardless of how this situation bears out and what, if any, allegations are found to be true, statements like that can be tremendously hurtful for people who have gone through similar situation. Statements that blame the victim minimize a very real pain and discredit traumatic experiences. (To his credit, Boeheim has since apologized and expressed regret for his remarks.)
I don’t want to get into an accusatory argument of who knew what, said what and did what. There is going to be plenty of time for that in the days and weeks to come. I want to make this a broader conversation. Something that we have not spent nearly enough time talking about in the aftermath of Penn State and now Syracuse is how off-limits university athletic programs have been for so long. If there was more oversight of these teams and less of a willingness to look the other way when incidents arise, maybe individuals would not feel emboldened and take terrible actions. Coaches and players on these teams feel invincible. I am a HUGE sports fan and I’m not trying to demonize athletes and coaches, but just because you can score a touchdown or dunk a basketball does not put you above repercussions.
So the question arises: what do we do about it? I think that players and coaches need to go through empowered bystander training so that they can learn what to do when someone on the team is doing something that they know is inappropriate or illegal. A lot of these athletes come out of a “no snitching” culture and unless schools emphasize the importance of bystanders taking action and preventing tragedies, nothing will change. School leaders, coaches and team captains have to set the tone for the rest of the team. People with credibility have to step forward and say, “if this were to happen in my locker room, this is what I would do and this is what I expect you to do. Nothing less will be tolerated.”
What do you think schools and communities need to do?