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Sandusky, Fine Allegations Make Us Think Twice

Friday, November 18, 2011


As a Syracuse alumnus, my first reaction upon hearing of the news of child molestation accusations against Orange assistant men’s basketball coach Bernie Fine was, “please don’t be true.” My second reaction was, “if these allegations are true, throw the book at him!”

Here we are just a couple of weeks removed from the shocking revelations of what allegedly happened with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and we may have another full-blown scandal on our hands involving a major college athletic program.

All of the details regarding Bernie Fine have yet to come out, but if they prove to be true and Syracuse officials knew of these problems and chose to cover them up much like Penn State apparently did, then heads should roll in upstate New York as well, including that of Jim Boeheim if he was a part of any cover-up like we believe Joe Paterno was.

But this second round of child molestation allegations now raises a lot of questions and may have some very unfortunate consequences.

As a young boy, I was an altar boy at my local parish in Groveland, Massachusetts. Many of my closest friends were also altar boys and we enjoyed working for the two priests in our parish. One of the priests – Father Carroll – took time out of his life to make the lives of the young boys who worked for the parish better. I vividly recall him taking myself and two other altar boys on a ski trip to Stowe, Vermont where we went skiing and stayed overnight. I assume that my parents had no reservations about allowing me to go on that trip, nor did I. And I can tell you that we had a fantastic time! We skied by day, went out to dinner, played video games and ping pong and watched TV by night. It was a blast! And there was no inappropriate behavior of any kind by anyone involved.

I also recall as a young kid, going to my local elementary school with a couple of my friends during the summer to help the local custodian clean the school. We would wash desks, empty the trash, sweep the floors. In short, whatever that custodian – Mr. Comeau – wanted us to do. As a reward for our hard work, Mr. Comeau would often buy us lunch and even invite us to his summer camp up in Peaks Island, Maine. There we would stay overnight and have fun on the Island doing everything from swimming to fishing, to whittling things out of wood and playing cards. Again, it was so much fun for a child my age and there was nothing inappropriate about it.

Now, en light of these allegations against Fine and the charges against Sandusky, I ask myself as a parent if I could allow my son or daughter to go somewhere unsupervised with another adult?

After all, many of the parents of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged victims probably assumed that their child was lucky to have been befriended by a Penn State coach who would take them to games or on campus to see the football facilities.  Undoubtedly, the same holds true for the mother of Bernie Fine’s accuser. Her son did not have a father so she must have been very happy to have Fine supposedly act like a father figure to her son. Or, at least that was the thought.

As a parent of two young children, could I even consider allowing my kids to be placed in the same situation? I can honestly say that I don’t have a good answer to that question at the moment.

On the one hand, I want to be as protective of my children as possible and by doing so, I would be assured of their safety if they were always in my presence. Conversely, should the actions of a few bad people dissuade me from allowing my kids to enjoy what could be some great moments of their childhood?

I am a firm believer that 99.9% of people who work with children do so with the very best of intentions. Priests, scout leaders, coaches, teachers – many of them are to be commended for how they give of themselves and their time to make the lives of children that much richer.

However, it’s that one-tenth of one percent that makes national headlines and makes us all think twice about what we will and will not allow our kids to do.

And the ramifications of these two stories don’t end there. I can honestly say that I will have to think long and hard about ever wanting to coach a youth sports team.

Let’s say you’re a CYO basketball coach and you’re trying to teach the art of boxing out. If you put your hands up, turn around and back into a child with your derriere, could that be viewed as inappropriate contact with a child?

The same holds true for guidance counselors in our local schools who are now encouraged to keep the doors to their offices open at all times when with a student so that there will be no questions of alleged impropriety.

It’s sad that this is where we are as a society today, but it's also the reality of the world that we live in.

I just hope that these latest allegations of alleged child molestation are in no way true and that there aren’t more problems like this waiting to surface.  And I hope that whatever decisions we as parents make for our kids will be the right ones.


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