SYRACUSE — Syracuse University head basketball coach Jim Boeheim not only defamed two former ball boys but he also helped intimidate other people from coming forward when he called the men opportunistic liars for accusing an assistant coach of child sexual abuse, according to the men’s lawyers.
They made the arguments in court papers filed this week opposing motions by Boeheim and the university to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Bobby Davis and Michael Lang after Boeheim contested their claims they were abused by former assistant coach Bernie Fine.
The defendants have argued Boeheim was expressing constitutionally protected opinions laced with “rhetoric and hyperbole.”
But the men’s lawyers said in the court papers that he made demonstrably false statements to discredit their clients when he spoke to a number of media outlets after the allegations against Fine were made public in November.
“Boeheim’s statements not only harmed Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, they also no doubt had a substantial chilling effect on other victims of sexual abuse who already face so many obstacles to reporting,” the lawyers wrote.
Boeheim backed Fine by saying Davis was looking to cash in on the publicity surrounding the Penn State sex abuse scandal. He later apologized amid criticism from victims’ rights advocates.
His lawyers also noted the coach’s “well-known reputation for bluntly expressing himself” and said opinions “no matter how offensive, cannot be the subject of an action for defamation.”
Davis and Lang’s lawyers counter that “branding someone a liar in the specific way Boeheim did here is defamatory and not privileged in any way.” They argue that the men “have every right to vindicate their reputation by proving Boeheim’s statements false.”
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit is set to be argued April 27. Fine has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged.