On Thursday, the AP broke a story that former Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine has filed a defamation lawsuit against ESPN.
The wording here is interesting:
"Fired Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine has filed the initial paperwork in a defamation lawsuit against ESPN for reporting two former ball boys' claims that the longtime coach sexually abused them."
ESPN reported the story with the information that was available to them at the time. There is no mention in this story about how they also reported that one of Fine's accusers later admitted to making the whole thing up.
A year-long federal investigation resulted in no charges. The Fine situation made news on ESPN on the heels of the Jerry Sandusky case – a case which had mountains of incriminating evidence and a story that ESPN was largely behind on.
What's even worse is that the third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, whose initial story led to Fine's termination, recanted his entire story, saying he'd never met Fine:
"It has become a burden of a lie and I am sick of it,’ Tomaselli wrote in an email to The Daily Orange. ‘Bobby Davis told me what to tell detectives and it pretty much took off from there. The evidence that supports me is just pure luck, not real evidence.
Tomaselli went on to write in the email, ‘I NEVER met Bernie fine or went to an autograph session. I sat in the nosebleeds at the Pitt game at the dome in ’03 but that is it. I lied.'"
A week later, he reversed his story again, saying Fine had in fact abused him.
Tomaselli himself is serving time in prison for sexually abusing a 13-year old boy.
While Fine has every right to feel victimized in this scenario, ESPN was not the only news outlet to report not only the original accusations, but also the subsequent vindication. However, ESPN certainly led the way in the coverage.
Fine likely feels that someone needs to pay, and that someone is ESPN. Fine's wife, Laurie, is also suing the leader for libelous statements they made about her knowledge of the alleged abuse.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out and whether or not the Fine's lawsuits gain any traction in court.