The worst thing we can all do right now with the Bernie Fine allegations is make a decision and stamp it with a seal of approval.
"The accusers looks shady in their interview, they're full of s***!"
"Bernie Fine should be fired right now and so should Jim Boeheim!"
Given how early this is into the (second) investigation into the alleged crimes, who knows what's still to be uncovered. Or not uncovered. The whole thing has absolutely forced Syracuse fans to look at the way we reacted to the Penn State situation and wonder if we made our choices too soon.
There's one detail to the whole thing that keeps nagging at me, however. It was the first thing that popped into my head this morning and and it's been driving me crazy ever since.
The fact that ESPN broke this story is what's giving a lot of people pause.
If 60 Minutes or The New York Times came out with an independent, investigative story on these allegations, almost all of us would take them at their word. The kind of integrity they bring with them instills a sense of trust with readers that say, "we wouldn't be telling you about this if we weren't sure it was true."
Let's face it, the same cannot be said of ESPN. And that's what worries me.
Now, if you've been reading this site long enough, you already know how I feel about ESPN's journalistic integrity. That said, we've always looked at specific arms of the Worldwide Leader octopus to be a little more trustworthy than others. I wouldn't trust anything that comes out of the mouth of Colin Cowherd but it's easier for me to put my faith in Outside The Lines. Even then, however, we've all heard enough stories to give us pause.
Will Leitch's book God Save the Fan does a great rundown of how ESPN orchestrated the entire John Ameachi gay NBA controversy back in 2007. Ameachi's book was published by ESPN Books and the company decree turned every TV and radio talking head into a mouthpiece to promote the gay angle. Radio hosts asked every NBA-related guest what their thoughts were and eventually, someone (Tim Hardaway) took the inevitable bait. Then, ESPN's many tentacles spent the next few weeks discussing that ad nauseum.
ESPN can go the other way as well. Remember the brouhaha when they decided not to cover the Ben Rothliesberger sexual assault allegations? It was a huge story about a major athlete in the country's biggest sports league...how could the biggest sports news network in America not provide full coverage?
Here was ESPN's statement at the time:
"At this point, we are not reporting the allegations against Ben Roethlisberger because no criminal complaint has been filed. As far as we know, this is a civil lawsuit that Roethlisberger has yet to address publicly."
Feel free to think of all the times that didn't stop ESPN from reporting.
By all accounts, ESPN botched the initial coverage of the Penn State Scandal. ESPN didn't own the story and there's nothing ESPN hates more than not owning a massive sports story. If you were on Twitter the night of the riots, you know the only thing that people were complaining about more than the students was ESPN's coverage. They didn't even have a truck in Happy Valley and were forced to pilfer coverage from other networks.
Considering it was, and is, one of the biggest sports-related stories of our time, that's embarassasing.
And so, while I'm not trying to say this is exactly what happened, I'd like to pull out my Jump To Conclusions mat and take a spin.
1. ESPN executives were righteously pissed off with the network's handling of the coverage.
2. The story got so big, so quickly that ESPN has no ownership over it.
3. A decree went out internally to find "the next big sexual assault scandal."
4. OTL remembered the Bernie Fine accusations made back in 2003. Accusations that were investigate by the Syracuse Police, Syracuse Post-Standard and ESPN itself and found to be lacking in evidence or corroboration.
5. A new victim suddenly emerges now in 2011 at the perfect time so that ESPN and OTL can re-promote the abuse allegations, create the next big sexual assault scandal and, this time, own it.
NOW, I will reiterate that I'm not saying that's what happened. And if it comes out that Bernie Fine did indeed do what he's accused of, I hope that the proper legal process takes its course.
What I am saying is that, based on what I know of ESPN and based on their reputation, I wouldn't be surprised.