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Jason Whitlock’s Evisceration of ESPN Reflects Syracuse Fans Emotions

If Bernie Fine is found cleared of the accusations of sexual abuse, Jason Whitlock’s explosive piece will be the first major indictment of ESPN’s role in a false allegation. The Fox Sports opinion maker laid a bone-jarring hit on Mark Schwartz and OTL, for its “rush to judgement” story. Full disclosure: I worked alongside J-Dub for years as a host at 610 Sportsradio in Kansas City. Generally, we got along well. I don’t always agree with his takes, and sometimes I’ve felt Whitlock was guilty of kicking a nest simply because he likes fighting hornets. But the one thing I respect about him is being unafraid to shine a harsh spotlight within the always incestual media world, even if it means risking his own opportunities.

J-Dub had a relationship with ESPN for years and was a regular contributer to Sports Reporters, but left on bad terms. He has routinely taken shots at the network and its media tentacles. Maybe this has some of that lingering bad blood in it. Even so, his piece has an important nugget of truth. 

It’s difficult to marginalize the Fine accusations as a Syracuse fan. You run the risk of being labeled a hypocrite or having selective morality. Orange Nation wanted to immediately throw the book at Penn State, but many of us are dubious (to varying degrees) of Davis/Lang. Whitlock’s piece speaks to how most of us feel: Bernie Fine might be guilty, but ESPN seems to be playing too fast and loose.

“Mark Schwarz, Andy Berko and ESPN remind me of Paterno, Mike McQueary and Penn State in one respect. When confronted with a difficult choice, they all did the bare, legal minimum to protect their self-interest. They failed their moral obligation.”

“This column is not meant to exonerate Bernie Fine… I do not know Bernie Fine. I do not have any insight into what did or did not transpire between Fine and his two accusers. I’m not exonerating Bernie Fine. I don’t know him. I don’t know what he’s capable of doing and/or hiding. What I know is you don’t destroy a person’s reputation with two highly flimsy accusations.”

I have no idea about Fine’s personal exploits. If he’s found guilty of relations with an underage boy, no matter whether the statute of limitations has expired, Fine must be removed from Syracuse immediately. The program should hang its head in shame if it has housed a sexual predator for four decades. Jim Boeheim should feel humiliated if his friend has these types of deranged skeletons in his closet. No Orange fan would be okay knowing the athletic department could be intertwined with this horror.

The irony is a school which prides itself on teaching the proper tenants of journalism and sends scores of students to work in Bristol, may have been undone by media sloppiness. Is ESPN going to give a forum to every woman who claims an NBA player is her baby daddy? Is every accuser that says Big Ben cornered them in a bathroom going to get “5 Good Minutes” on PTI?

“In the brief snippet of interviews ESPN has aired of Davis and Lang, why didn’t Schwarz ask any probative questions? Davis and Lang are grown men who mustered the courage to go on national television and talk about being fondled by another man two decades ago but they can’t handle a few clarifying questions?

It’s morally criminal what Schwarz and ESPN did to Bernie Fine. Even if other, more credible accusers against Fine surface, it does not justify what Schwarz did to Fine. This can’t be the standard. The mainstream media can’t simply throw out crippling, salacious rumors and then let the proof of those rumors filter in.”

Again, let’s clarify – no one is lumping child sexual abuse in with other crimes. It is the worst, the bottom of the barrel, the scummiest act in society. And Fine may be guilty of this, so no one should give him a free pass. If evidence surfaces supporting Davis/Lang, Orange fans should be disgusted with the basketball program they have supported with fervor for so many years. But can you go forward on a story which potentially unravels a program and ruins a coach’s reputation because two people are willing to point fingers on camera?

“After being embarrassingly slow to react to the legitimate Penn State story, ESPN decided to ‘own’ the Syracuse story.”

That’s the real fear here. ESPN was criticized for being beaten on the PSU scandal by every other major new outlet, especially CNN. The largest sports media entity in the world had been last on the biggest college sports scandal of all-time. Even ESPN’s ombudsman expressed disappointment at how the network handled the two-week maelstrom in Happy Valley. It would be incredibly unfortunate if ESPN tried to make good by being overly aggressive with the Fine allegations, especially if the network knowingly took shortcuts in its reporting.

Maybe the ends justify the means. If Fine is guilty, it took bringing this to light by some questionable journalism to start the wheel of justice turning. But there’s always the flip side: That ESPN’s overeagerness to be first on the story compromised the integrity of the report, the university, the program, and at least one man’s lifetime of work.

Posted: D.A.

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