SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim apologized Friday for questioning the motives of the men who accused his longtime assistant of molesting them as minors, saying he reacted out of loyalty.
“I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made,” said Boeheim, who spoke slowly 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.
Boeheim said his apology and regrets came from the heart.
“No one said this is what you should say,” he said. “This is what I feel.”
When the allegations first surfaced, Boeheim adamantly defended Fine and accused the men of lying for money.
“What I said last week was out of loyalty,” he said. “I acted without thinking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Advocates for sex abuse victims had called for Boeheim to resign or be fired for his disparaging remarks.
Speaking after No. 4 Syracuse beat No. 10 Florida on Friday, Boeheim said his initial comments were “insensitive to the individuals involved and especially to the overall issue of child abuse.”
It’s the second time in less than a week that Boeheim has softened his stance toward the accusers.
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 insisted he didn’t regret backing Fine when the allegations were first made public.
Boeheim said he spent time this week at the McMahon Ryan House for child abuse in Syracuse and plans to get involved to help raise awareness.
“I’m going to do everything I can to do that,” he said, no matter whether he’s coaching or not. “I’ve always been committed to kids. There’s no question in my mind the issue of abuse is the No. 1 thing we should all be concerned about in this community.”
One of the 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 an investigation of child molestation allegations against Fine.
Earlier Friday, USA Basketball said Boeheim’s spot on the coaching staff of the U.S. basketball team remained secure, though the U.S. Olympic Committee is monitoring the child sex abuse investigation of Fine.
Boeheim is the top assistant to Mike Krzyzewski on the team that will play at the 2012 London Olympics.
Asked about Boeheim’s status, USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller said, “Jim Boeheim is a member of the USA Men’s National Team coaching staff.'”
The USOC declined comment, though a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the federation is following the issue. The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Two high-profile Olympic sports have dealt with allegations of child sex abuse in the past two years.
In 2010, USA Swimming was hit by a number of sex-abuse allegations by coaches. More recently, 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach Don Peters was banned for life by USA Gymnastics after being accused of sexually abusing two athletes in the 1980s.
Over the past 18 months, the USOC has increased efforts to ensure safe environments for children who participate in Olympic sports.
The federation adopted a task force that encouraged the national governing bodies to adopt standardized policies to prevent abuse. It also hired an attorney to serve as the director of ethics and safe sport.
Boeheim was on the U.S. coaching staff in 1990 and returned in 2006.
AP National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver contributed to this report.