It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Syracuse basketball fans — let alone students — with the increasing number of allegations emerging about Bernie Fine and the molestation of young men, including two former ball boys, while he was tenured as the assistant coach for the Syracuse men’s basketball team.
News broke on November 17 that Fine was placed on administrative leave by Chancellor Nancy Cantor and SU, and was then terminated on Sunday, November 27 — effective immediately. For both SU students and the surrounding community, the accusations have been nothing short of shocking. There’s been an unprecedented amount of unraveling information, all of it constantly rebutted by opposing parties, which makes this situation even more difficult to comprehend and formulate conclusive opinions.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks’ forward and former SU basketball player on the 2003 National Championship team, mirrored a reaction similar to the majority of Syracuse’s current student body when asked about Bernie Fine’s controversy in a November 29 interview:
"My heart goes out to the families. I have no comment about the Fine situation or the Boeheim situation," Anthony said. "That’s a sensitive situation, a sensitive topic right now that I don’t even want to go into."
Aside from the occasional Facebook status or Twitter update, the majority of students have remained almost complacent. It is crucial for students to tread carefully in responding to the new developments around accusations against Bernie Fine and the incessant confusion from the situation’s lack of clarity.
The Daily Orange reported that Neal Casey, president of Syracuse University’s Student Association, commended students on Monday night for their reactions to the controversies thus far. "He mentioned, in light of the recent events concerning the SU basketball program, he is proud of the way students have been handling SU’s thrust into the national spotlight," the article states.
Events at Penn State earlier this month have served as a model for Syracuse. Even though each school’s respective circumstances of alleged child molestation and sexual abuse are different and not entirely comparable, Penn State laid out the groundwork for how Syracuse’s administration should react. The school also set a major example for students, as well.
After Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired, along with university’s President Graham Spanier, students rioted in protest. "Thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue," according to the New York Times.
PSU students have since revamped their attitudes by coming out in support of anti-child abuse sentiments and honored the victims, but the damage was already done. Syracuse students have had the benefit of witnessing these initial reactions and learned from others’ mistakes, but these mistakes shouldn’t be long forgotten.
While allegiance to college sports is an inherent part of campus culture, the distinction between traditional fandom and blind allegiance is an important one to make. The difference between allegiance and blind allegiance is simple — it’s about putting those critical thinking skills to good use and mindfully analyzing the ethics of a situation before showing support. Unconditional love is mostly reserved for family members and, in special cases, good friends. Backing up a sports team no matter what the case can be dangerous, especially if fans are failing to stay fully informed.
Blind allegiance acts as a kind of nationalistic pride that permeates throughout campus cultures at schools like SU and Penn State: where student bodies large in numbers adhere to traditional possessiveness over popular sports, and have an undying sense of loyalty.
There’s no doubt that Syracuse basketball and other campus sports largely shape students’ experiences — "bleeding orange" isn’t a phrase to be taken lightly — but it’s important to consider the greater implications of the situation, beyond natural feelings of school pride.
Even coach Jim Boeheim exemplified and hinted at this characteristic of extreme loyalty in a recent press conference after Tuesday night’s victory against Eastern Michigan. When discussing his initial comments about Bernie Fine, Boeheim said, "I supported a friend. I think it’s important what I did. I’m proud I did that. I’ve known him for 46 years. We went to school together. I think I owed him a debt of allegiance."
It’s easier to immediately stand behind coaches, teams, and universities than it is to step back and understand the full severity of a situation before providing endless support. But life isn’t about making the easy decisions — doing the right thing involves extensive contemplation and reflection before jumping the gun, which is exactly the attitude SU students should embody moving forward.