Since Sunday, when the Laurie Fine tape aired on ESPN, the Syracuse scandal has not only rocked the sports world, but my own. It was not Bernie Fine who prompted me to write a very lengthy post about his alleged child abuse, but his wife, Laurie. Shamefully, my first thought was not “What a disgusting bastard” or “Oh my god, now we have an Uncle Bernie, too?!” It was, “How can any woman support a man who she knows, who she has seen with her very eyes, molest little boys under her own roof?” Bluntly put, it blew my fucking mind. I’m not kidding. It was like my brain exploded. I mean, where is Chris Hansen when we need him? As a woman, I could not reconcile such awful crimes with the wives who willfully remained blind to them. So I did what any woman would do when needing to rant and/or when needing some perspective: I turned to my friends. (The friends who all have my express permission to immediately call the police if, god forbid, my future husband ever touches anyone inappropriately, let alone children and especially if it happens “several times leading to ejaculation.”).
So, around noon on Sunday, long before I posted anything at CDTF, I emailed a wide variety of my favorite females to ask for their thoughts on Laurie Fine. Admittedly, I was, in part, enraged, confused, riled, and horrified. My email, with original overdramatic capitalization and lackluster grammar, read:
I have avoided this story for two weeks to wait for things to flesh out - was this someone fraudulently riding on the coattails of the Uncle Jerry fiasco, OR was there truth to the matter? Syracuse allegedly investigated and cleared Bernie Fine in 2005, which made me hesitate to judge. But now with this, the phone call* from his wife, wherein she admits her concerns.....No woman randomly worries that her husband may or may not be touching little boys unless there is major cause for concern. I mean, this taped phone call is DAMNING. *In New York, it is legal to tape ANY phone call. By answering the phone, you consent to being recorded.
So my question for you all, as women I greatly respect, is this: as women, how do they justify what their husbands are doing? How do they stand behind them? Uncle Jerry's wife was taking trips with his victims to bowl games and calling them before their grand jury testimony to ask them to stop. Now Bernie's wife basically affirms everyone's greatest fears. These are the grossest, most disgusting crimes imaginable. Going on under your own fucking roof? How can they stand themselves? This is not The Good Wife/Hillary Clinton/an affair. It is exponentially worse.
I know you guys are slammed, but if you have a minute, I would absolutely love your opinion on this matter. Not the molestation charges, per se, which I know we all agree are heinous, but the women behind the molesters. I am extremely curious about this. I wonder how flagrant it is in sports. Two epic programs in a matter of a month. How many more are out there? It blows my mind. And utterly turns my stomach. I hope you all had Happy Turkey Days. Please don't feel obligated in any way to respond, I really know you are slammed, but thank you in advance if you do...
I sent the email to 11 incredible women – ranging from students to professionals to housewives, some who are in their twenties and others who are…I don’t know and it would be rude to guess, both the married and the single, and hailing from all over the country. I thought that a few would respond, but as my email implies, I also expected most of them to prioritize their ridiculously busy lives over my latest obsession. Thankfully, I was wrong. Nearly everyone responded. And all of them, with their thoughtful and poignant words, blew me away. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them, as friends and leaders and, yes, women to admire (since such women are apparently becoming harder to find these days). At the same time, I should confess: how I originally envisioned this post was put to shame by the women who graciously contributed. The following responses are posted in the order they were received; some were sent to the whole group, some just to me. I have not commented fully, because I am still struggling with the original question asked: As women, how do they justify what their husbands are doing? The truth is, I really don’t know.
Carrie: I definitely don't have time to get too deep into any of this, but I have to assume all of these "supportive" wives are attempting to uphold the "worse" part of their better or worse vows. I also think there's probably a healthy portion of turning a blind eye to honest-to-goodness unforgivable and unthinkable behavior and a lot of rationalizing of that behavior. It sounds so dumb, but people in love do dumb things in the name of love and "dutiful" wives seem to do even dumber things in the name of "duty.” That said, that is entirely me rationalizing something that is unrationalizable. There's no excuse for these men's actions. It's not these women's duty to make or provide excuses. And I personally don't think that the "for worse" part of marriage vows should cover this level of worseness. I don't understand it any more than you do and it is vexing to be sure. It's easy to judge – and I am judging, don't get me wrong – but not to get too Pollyanna, but the best that we can hope is that we would do differently in the same circumstances.
Vanessa: I think women are known to behave irrationally when it comes to protecting their families. I don't think she understands that she's basically enabling the crimes. I think she's just desperate to maintain the image of stability and, like anyone with a desperate cause, there will be cracks. It's hard to turn away from someone who's given you everything you ever could've wanted, even if that person is breaking the law.
Linda: In my opinion, if the statute of limitations wasn't up, someone like this woman should be charged as an accessory since she was clearly aware and there is proof of that. It would literally make me sick to knowingly be with someone capable of these things, so I have no idea what would possess her, or anyone in a similar situation, to stay. Must be a twisted sense of loyalty. Unfortunately, this also happens all the time with little girls and their stepfathers. The mothers are aware and/or won't listen to the kids and it happens in their own homes. A parent’s first responsibility is to protect their children. Sad – all of it.
Robin: I've spent the entirety of my career (albeit 5 years since I finished grad school, but I have gray hair, so I feel like I have some authority) working for children serving social service non-profit organizations. Though I am on the administrative side of things (Hello Development Office. You can send your donations to me), I have gone through child safety training. It is a day-long horrific training where you learn just how sick and conniving perpetrators are. Child predators will commit a crime and will apply to be a mentor at a youth serving organization the next day, because they know that the crime will not show up on their CORI (criminal background check) in the two weeks it takes to run them, so they know they have that window to gain access to vulnerable kids. You leave this training and you are sick to your stomach. You start to question that, because you enjoy babysitting your friends’ kids or you were a camp counselor, maybe you're a pedophile. These perpetrators are criminal, despicable and SO SMART. They are sorta like inside traders in a white collar crime but obviously WAY WAY worse. Like the grossest ever. I feel bad for Mrs. Fine (I also hate that the Fines are probably Jewish. We don't need another slime ball, we had Madoff), because I honestly think that she didn't even realize the severity of the crime that her husband was committing on poor innocent children because perpetrators are just so damn smart and conniving. She has been married to the man for a long time and he has probably been manipulating her from the moment they said "I do.” So, although she said what she said, I think she may have been numb to her husband or to what she was saying. And, no, that does not take any of the grossness out of this situation, but perpetrators are smart little sickos, so though she can't plead insanity and is just as guilty as Paterno in not trusting her instinct and reporting it, you have to understand the manipulation that I am pretty sure she was going through.
Jill: Reading the transcripts, knowing Laurie Fine also had an affair with Bobby Davis when he turned 18, I don't know. I am trying hard to find sympathy for her, to put myself in her shoes – the man I love, my secure marriage, professional stature and standing – but I don't know. I am sure she was manipulated. I am sure she is also a victim in many ways. Maybe that is why she felt closest and reached out to her husband's victim, enough to sleep with him. But how do you let this happen under your own roof? When Davis reminds her, she says she still has "graphic images" in her head. I know that I am writing from an ignorant perspective – I have never been married and I have never been faced with such a heinous crime by a loved one (thank haysus). But after everything she admitted in this phone call, I am having major difficulties feeling badly for Mrs. Fine, other than the fact that she single-handedly helped bury her husband, at least in the court of public opinion. I am struggling with how she fits into all of this and how much blame she deserves.
Robin: Admittedly, I hadn't read the newest deets (I've been driving back to Boston all day), and I'd like to retract my previous comments (besides the joke about the gray hair). They should both rot in hell together. DISGUSTING.
Monika: I haven't looked at the links you've sent yet, but I do believe it’s another case of a weak individual who was definitely manipulated by a monster. Having said that, if she was privy to what was going on (and became a part of it, it seems), she is just as responsible. The whole thing is so upsetting and deplorable. Its so sad that she knew and allowed this sick behavior to continue…but it’s amazing what people will do for love and/or their commitment to someone. Whether she came from a place of fear or was able to repress it somehow, it’s still just beyond awful. It’s true what they say – "love" can be blind – big time!
LT: We have had our own little Sandusky/Fine here for a while now (You can read about it here) so I know what it's like, first-hand, when a community finds about a predator. I know this man's wife is still supportive of him (she appeared beside him at his parole hearing on the 16th). I cannot fathom it. Does she believe it happened? I mean, he CONFESSED. I don't know if she does. I haven't read much about Bernie Fine. It's almost like I can't process it after the whole Penn State thing.
Amber: I mean, I feel like there’s some serious mental illness at play here. Otherwise, I can have no sympathy for them. It’s not that what Bernie did was breaking the law – he stole that kid’s life and his wife was a willing participant. I don’t think her silence was about love – it was straight up selfish, laziness, complete lack of care? Even if she didn’t report her husband, it seems like she never even attempted to keep him away from Bobby Davis. People are sick.
Monika: Well, I use the term "love" loosely...as I also agree these are people who are seriously mentally ill.
Karen: Without going into too much detail, I disclosed a series of events approximately 18 years after they occurred, to a lawyer. At the time of the events, the man was my soon-to-be brother-in-law, marrying my older sister (it continued after the marriage, under the threat of "don't tell or else"). Fairly innocuous at first, but more egregious as time passed. When they had to move into our house, when my sister was pregnant with her first child, I lived in constant fear. I was only 14. They were there for several months with us and moved to their own house eventually. When my niece was born some eight years later, I was in a panic that he would have a girl child in the house. I dedicated my life to protecting her without telling anyone what he was capable of. There is a whole other story behind this. So, back to my original sentence: When I disclosed the events to my sister's lawyer, when they were divorcing 18 years or so later, the lawyer told me that I should tell my mother and my sister. So, I did. (I was telling the lawyer in an effort to make sure my brother-in-law didn't get custody of my niece). My mother was fit to be tied, but was in Florida and could not do anything. She did write the man's mother a nasty letter. I played it off so she wouldn't know how much it affected my entire life. My mother was beside herself, because she had been horribly abused as a child. Then, I told my sister. I told her what he did and that my brother-in-law, her husband, told me not to tell because I would ruin the wedding. I told her (and my mother) that I didn't tell, because I didn't want to be the cause of her not marrying him. My sister told me that she probably would have still married him.
That haunts me. This conversation happened probably 10 years ago now. I have never forgotten. She was willing to overlook the fact that her soon-to-be husband was molesting and spying on her little sister in the shower, because it didn't sound so bad to her. She then told me, in the same breath, that he did some weird things when they were married (voyeurism and such). Still, she said that even if I had disclosed it, she would have chosen him. When I told my mother this, she said, unequivocally, that he would have been ridden out on a rail and if my brothers had let him live, he would be lucky. My mother said she would have killed him herself, and to this day, she holds significant fury toward him for this. When she has seen him, she has been clear that she knows what he did. He, of course, denies it all, and told my sister that I was lying when she asked him about it. Still, my sister: I call her weak. I believe her weakness and subservience held her to some idea that she was supposed to overlook or undervalue the events. And this attitude held, even as she was divorcing him; he walked out on his family. She hated him. Yet, she told me she probably would have married him anyway, if I had told on him back when I was 13. She just didn't think it was a big deal. Even as I told her as an adult.
I know how those kids feel who told and nobody took them seriously. I have no concept of the wife's silence. Her complicity is weakness. Shame on her. The other part of this is that my sister hinted at some sort of abuse. She probably thought that since she dealt with it, everyone should. She knew about my mother's history. So, perhaps Fine's wife suffered through something and felt that she could discount the children's reports. Denial. She, perhaps, was denying her own experience? This is a total guess, but it's the closest I can come to understanding the psychology of it. I have little tolerance for weak women, especially when it comes to protecting children. Again, shame on her. *rant over*
Amanda: I think it's disgusting, deplorable and incredibly sad that a mother, and human, could turn a blind eye towards sexual abuse of a child. She also is clearly disturbed to want to sleep with a man/boy who she knew her husband preyed upon. That being said, he's way hotter than her and she was not sleeping with Bernie clearly, so...
It's a shame that she will not be prosecuted for enabling him.
* * *
Thank you to everyone who participated; I love that there were so many different perspectives and voices. I will have more on Bernie and Laurie Fine later. We still need to talk about Jim Boeheim’s knowledge (or lack thereof); the fact that Bobby Davis really has nothing to gain from this story (and why he didn’t give Syracuse the tape years ago); ESPN’s decision to release the tape now; and what the hell is going on in the world of college sports. I am a strange mix of baffled, incredulous, saddened, horrified, and angry right now.
The bright spot? Duke (#4) vs. Ohio State (#2) in Columbus, tonight on ESPN at 9:30 p.m. Anyone in New York City, there is a Duke Hoops Watch at Brother Jimmy’s in Union Square. And please check back later in the day for updates on the Fine Affair.