Boeheim committed to raising child abuse awareness

Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim said Saturday he’ll go ahead with his campaign against child abuse even though he knows his motives will be questioned.

“We believed in helping kids long before this. I’m sure people are always going to question why you do something, but we’re going to do this and continue to do it,” Boeheim said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday morning. “We don’t do it for what people might say.”

On Friday night, Boeheim apologized for disparaging the men who accused his longtime assistant of molesting them as minors, saying his comments were especially insensitive to the overall issue of child abuse.

“I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made,” said Boeheim, who spoke haltingly and paused frequently during a postgame press conference. “I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused.”

Former assistant coach Bernie Fine has been accused of child sex abuse by three men, including two former Syracuse ballboys. Fine, who was fired Sunday, has denied the allegations.

Advocates for sex abuse victims had called for Boeheim to resign or be fired for his disparaging remarks.

Friday’s apology marked the latest shift in Boeheim’s attitude toward Fine’s accusers.

When the allegations were first made public Nov. 17, Boeheim adamantly defended his longtime friend and vilified the accusers, saying they were lying and out for money.

After Fine was fired Sunday, Boeheim released a statement saying he regretted “any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”

On Tuesday, Boeheim said he didn’t regret defending Fine and said he had never worried about his job status in 36 years.

Friday night, he fully apologized and insisted it came from the heart.

“No one said this is what you should say,” he said. “This is what I feel.”

“I reacted without thinking,” Boeheim said about his initial response. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m trying to learn from my mistake. That’s all I can say.”

On Thursday, Boeheim and his wife, Juli, spent time at the McMahon Ryan House for child abuse in Syracuse.

“We started working with them last summer,” he said Saturday. “We met with them the other day not just to be fundraisers but to bring more awareness to people in this area. In our area there’s not enough as much awareness as there needs to be.”

He said he was surprised to learn how many child abuse victims don’t come forward.

“I don’t think people realize how much abuse there is and how much work needs to be done,” Boeheim said. “That’s what I think I learned from talking to people at McMahon Ryan House; people don’t realize the magnitude of this problem. I really don’t, and it’s something that needs to be addressed in this community. We have started to now realize we need to do more than ever.”

One of Fine’s accusers, Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN last month that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis said the abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four. Davis’ stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in the fifth or sixth grade.

A third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine, came forward Sunday. He said he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room after a game. He said Fine touched him “multiple” times in that one incident.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service are leading the investigation.

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