ESPN to Be Sued for Libel Over Child Molestation Report

ESPN Logo - H 2012

ESPN Logo - H 2012

ESPN is about to be sued for libel over a report about former assistant Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine, who was fired after the network's Outside the Lines reported that two former ball boys were accusing the coach of molestation. The lawsuit comes from the ex-coach's wife, Laurie Fine, who says that a secret tape recording from one of the accusers was taken out of context in the broadcast.

The network reportedly knew about the allegations for nine years, but didn't report about it until last year.

What might have changed was interest in the sexual proclivities of collegiate athletic coaches in the wake of the scandal at Penn State that cost the jobs of school president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno.

According to a report by The Post-Standard, the lawsuit says that defendants ESPN, reporter Mark Schwarz and producer Arty Berko "spitefully destroyed Laurie Fine's reputation in an attempt to capitalize financially in the wake of the Penn State sex abuse scandal."

The ESPN report is said to have been based in part on a tape-recorded phone conversation between Fine and accuser Bobby Davis, who purportedly first told ESPN about the coach's molestation in 2003. ESPN is claimed to have had doubts at that time.

The phone conversation came in October 2002 and on the recording, Fine doesn't deny the allegations and says that her husband needed help. ESPN allegedly used excerpts to imply that she didn't do anything to put an end to what was happening, plus further innuendo about whether the wife was having inappropriate sexual relations herself. She was also reported to have allegedly made "a space in which children could be sexually molested in secret."

Laurie Fine denies this, and says the show cast her in a false light and harmed her reputation, and that since the airing, and follow-up reports by others, she's been forced to sell her home and escape.

ESPN says it hasn't seen the lawsuit yet. The plaintiff's lawyer reportedly will file it within the next few days.


Twitter: @eriqgardner