MANHATTAN (CN) – The two men who say Syracuse University associate basketball coach Bernie Fine molested them accuse head coach Jim Boeheim of defaming them by calling them liars in print and television interviews.
Robert Davis and Michael Lang sued Boeheim and Syracuse in New York County Court. The 19-page complaint describes their alleged abuse and subsequent shame and fear of going public in vivid detail.
“Fine used his position within the Syracuse University basketball program as a means of luring Bobby and Mike when they were just boys, making both of them team ‘ball boys,’ allowing them coveted spots to assist the team and attend games. The sexual abuse occurred in Fine’s office at Manley Field House, a short distance from (and for years, next door to) Boeheim’s office; it occurred on team trips to other cities for away games, including when the team attended and participated in the Final Four; it occurred at a fraternity house on campus where Fine was a Supervisor; and it occurred in Fine’s car and in his home,” according to the complaint.
“For years, Bobby Davis tried to report Fine’s behavior. Bobby Davis ironically felt enormous guilt for not doing more to stop Fine from having any future opportunity to abuse other young victims – even as so many adults around Bobby Davis as a child never did anything to stop Fine or ask why Fine needed to stay with Davis in the same hotel room, at times with just one bed, on team travels. Bobby Davis tried to get law enforcement to stop Fine by calling the Syracuse police in 2002; he tried to get Syracuse University to stop Fine by emailing Chancellor Nancy Cantor and telling her about the sexual molestation in 2005; he tried to get others to stop Fine by informing a local Syracuse newspaper; and he tried to get ESPN to publicize Fine’s abuse. Although the University claimed to have undertaken an investigation in 2005, the investigation was conducted by a law firm that had a clear interest in ensuring the University’s spotless reputation and it quickly concluded that the allegations were unfounded. Fine remained employed by the University from 2005 until very recently.”
After the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked Penn State, ESPN decided to air Davis’ and Lang’s accusations on Nov. 17.
Boeheim immediately went on the defensive for Fine, telling the Syracuse Post-Standard: “This is alleged to have occurred … what? Twenty years ago? Am I in the right neighborhood? … So we are supposed to do what? Stop the presses 26 years later? For a false allegation? For what I absolutely believe is a false allegation? I know [Davis is] lying about me seeing him in his hotel room. That’s a lie. If he’s going to tell one lie, I’m sure there’s a few more of them.” (Brackets and ellipses in complaint, which cites the Nov. 18 Syracuse Post-Standard, and the headline: “Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim Defends Bernie Fine, Says Accuser Bobby Davis is Lying.”)
The complaint continues: “When asked in the same interview what Davis’s and Lang’s motivations could be for coming forward to expose the abuse they suffered, Boeheim stated: ‘The Penn State thing came out and the kid behind this is trying to get money. He’s tried before. And now he’s trying again. … That’s what this is about. Money.'” (Citation to same newspaper article.)
The complaint continues: “Boeheim made similar statements to ESPN, telling the national sports news network: ‘It is a bunch of a thousand lies that [Davis] has told. … He supplied four names to the university that would corroborate his story. None of them did … there is only one side to this story. He is lying.'” (Ellipses and brackets in complaint, which cites a Nov. 18 story by Mike DeCourcy in Sporting News, and the headline: “Jim Boeheim Risks Everything to Defend His Friend.”)
The complaint continues: “While speaking to ESPN, Boeheim also impugned Lang’s honesty (although Boeheim confused the family relationship between Davis and Lang), implying that Lang’s accusations must have been fabricated. Boeheim wondered: ‘You don’t think it is a little funny that his cousin (relative) is coming forward?'” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Davis and Lang are stepbrothers.
Boeheim told the New York Times that the men’s molestation allegations were “a little suspicious,” according to the complaint, which cites a Nov. 17 story by Pete Themel and the headline, “Syracuse’s Boeheim Stands by Assistant Accused of Abuse.”
Boeheim eventually backtracked.
“Although Boeheim eventually acknowledged that he ‘misspoke,’ those words came too little too late: they could not undo the damage caused by his repeated, false, defamatory statements. One of Syracuse’s most vaunted and respected individuals had already told the world repeatedly and definitively that Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were nothing but liars and scam artists, making false reports of child sexual abuse to obtain money,” the complaint states.
“Boeheim has not suffered any consequences in his employment for using his position of power within the University to make these false, inflammatory, and injurious statements about Plaintiffs. Indeed, Syracuse continues to employ Boeheim, and has not done so much as publicly admonish him for his malicious and false statements to some of the country’s most widely disseminated and trusted media outlets.”
Davis and Lang say Boeheim should be “ashamed” of his statements, which reflect a larger trend of protecting the powerful in collegiate sports.
“Those public, official statements were not just false and defamatory: the statements epitomize the epic, years-long failure by Boeheim and the University to take even basic, simple steps to ensure that boys and teens – who themselves dedicated countless hours of unpaid work to assist the team that Boeheim led – would not be abused and victimized by a man whose power and influence flowed directly from the basketball program. …
“Boeheim and the University should be ashamed for the way they have responded: they deliberately chose to ignore Fine’s behavior and instead protected him, and at the same time, sent messages to others like him that they would remain protected and powerful as long as their team kept winning,” the complaint states.
Davis and Lang seek punitive damages for defamation.
They are represented by Mariann Meier Wang with Cuti Hecker Wang of New York City.