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Bernie Fine Fired: Why the Syracuse University Scandal Is So Out of Proportion

NEW YORK - MARCH 12:  Assistant coach Bernie Fine of the Syracuse Orange looks on from the sidelines during their game against the Connecticut Huskies during the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIINovember 28, 2016

Bernie Fine, an associate men’s basketball coach at Syracuse University, was fired Sunday night in the wake of new allegations of child molestation.

His dismissal comes after more than a week of investigations and multiple defenses from both Fine and head coach Jim Boeheim. The final straw, it seems, was a recorded 2002 phone conversation in which Fine’s wife revealed to Bobby Davis, one of Fine’s accusers, that she suspected sexual abuse and said Fine thought he was “above the law.”

The evidence continues to mount against Fine, following a similar pattern to the Penn State scandal involving former football coach, Jerry Sandusky.

As a student at Syracuse University and a fan of the basketball team, I will admit to initially being surprised at the allegations. I never imagined that a scandal like the one that tore apart the Penn State community would ever reach my campus, and yet here we are in the midst of the most shocking storm to hit Syracuse in decades.

Sexual abuse is a serious issue in today’s America and I’m glad that these two recent scandals will help protect tomorrow’s children. Both Bernie Fine and Jerry Sandusky allegedly violated the trust of kids that look up to them, and they both should be severely and rightfully punished if convicted.

However, that doesn’t explain why the media is blowing this story way out of proportion.

CNN opened its nighttime Sunday broadcast with the Fine story, and dedicated upwards of a half hour of airtime to covering the breaking news. SportsCenter ran the story on an endless loop. Nearly every major news outlet in the country had the Fine story at or near the top of their broadcast and on the front page of their website.

NEW YORK - MARCH 12:  Assistant coach Bernie Fine of the Syracuse Orange looks on from the sidelines during their game against the Connecticut Huskies during the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2009 in New Yo
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s undeniably a big story, but by devoting so much attention to it the media are toying with the public’s obsession with conflict.

Is what Fine did really worse than Bernie Madoff cheating thousands of investors out of billions of dollars? What about Muammar Gaddafi ordering the bombing of a plane and killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members?

It’s an ethical argument, but it’s a telling sign that Fine is receiving as much national media attention as both Madoff and Gaddafi. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, while Gaddafi was captured and killed by a force of Libyan fighters. No one knows what fate awaits Fine, but it’s safe to say he’s not in the same class as either of these two criminals.

I’m not trying to defend Fine. There’s no excuse for what Fine did and I admire Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor for taking the appropriate action. I’m merely trying to put his actions in perspective.

Our society loves to vilify criminals, regardless of the extent of their crime. Despite the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra of our legal system, the instinct is always to accuse first and ask questions later.

In Fine’s case, it appears the instinct was right. But that shouldn’t validate our incriminating behavior, nor should it enable future generations to do the same.

It’s a big world filled with both heroes and villains. Maybe if we spend some more time honoring the former, we won’t have to continue making monsters out of the latter.

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