Syracuse beat Eastern Michigan at home on Tuesday night, and afterward, Jim Boeheim faced the press for the first time since the latest Bernie Fine allegations came to light. Facing a bloated press corps with national media having flown in from around the country, he opened with a joke:
"This is the first time I’ve been in the press room where there’s more people here than at the game. Is there something special going on tonight?"
From there, he answered the media's questions with characteristic honesty, but also with restraint. There were no apologies, but he did say he's "saddened by what's unfolded" and "looking forward to a time when we can talk and learn from what has happened."
And for a lot of people, this wasn't enough.
The refrain's been familiar over the past week or so--everyone from Sports By Brooks to CBS Sports has pilloried Boeheim at Syracuse, mostly because he's failed to be outraged enough. Or as Pat Forde wrote at Yahoo! Sports after Tuesday night's press conference, Boeheim is "out of touch with the severity of the scandal."
As Forde wrote:
On this night, he sounded like another icon coach caught in a moment he can’t quite decipher, facing criticism he can’t quite fathom, failing to understand that a lifetime of having all the answers in a sporting context doesn’t mean you have all the answers in the greater realm. He sounded like a guy who doesn’t get it.
We know that writers have to write stories about this, and that Jim Boeheim's the most recognizable face in the room, but attacking Boeheim for not being somber/angry enough just seems like it's missing the point. Nothing's been proven yet, and after defending his friend at first and ultimately backtracking, it's pretty rational for Boeheim to be reluctant to make any bold gestures until the investigation's concluded.
Besides, this story really isn't about Jim Boeheim. So far as we know, this isn't a Joe Paterno situation--Boeheim had no idea what was happening with Bernie Fine.
There was an investigation a few years ago, that investigation found no proof of wrongdoing on Fine's part, and everyone assumed the matter was closed. It probably wasn't until this weekend that Boeheim seriously entertained the notion that one of his closest friends might have sexually abused young men.
Of course it's a moment "he can’t quite decipher" and of course this is all criticism "he can’t quite fathom." It has nothing to do with having spent a lifetime in sports, though. Jim Boeheim's a human. A human confronting alleged evil that defies human understanding. It's terrifying to think that nobody knew about Bernie Fine's alleged behavior, and I imagine that outside of the victims, nobody is more disturbed by this week's news Fine's friends and family. Like Jim Boeheim.
If we find out Boeheim knew and did nothing, then it becomes a different story.
But all indications are that he's just learning of the scale here. And if that's the case, taking him to task for his reaction seems completely beside the point. Pedophilia and molestation isn't something that's easily understood by anyone; that makes for a harder story to tell, but also one that needs to be told, so that people understand the nature of the problem and how we can fight it. Picking on Boeheim or some bogeyman like ESPN just delays a conversation that's already long overdue.
We're dealing in faceless evil, and the ultimate lesson of someone like Bernie Fine is that the face of an alleged pedophile can belong to just about anyone. But that face isn't Jim Boeheim. He may have seemed detached from reality at various points on Tuesday night, but for now, the story is exactly as unresolved as Boeheim described in his press conference:
"I'm looking forward to a time when we can talk and learn from what's happened. There's an important investigation going on, which I fully support, and I can't add anything more to that by speaking now. The investigation and all that we can learn from it is what's important."
If some part of him "doesn't get it" right now, then he's just as dumbfounded as any of us might be. It's an unthinkable, unfathomable situation, not some public relations fire drill for an athletic department.
So don't be one of the people ignoring the real, complex evil in the room to focus on whether Jim Boeheim seems glum enough, this week and beyond. This stuff is dreadful, and scary, and very real, and you don't want to sound like another one of those people who don't really get it.