A veteran sportswriter and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News was accused in a newspaper report Tuesday of molesting three girls and a boy in the 1970s, including his niece, who is now a prosecutor.
Authorities said no criminal charges would be pursued against Bill Conlin because the allegations of abuse happened too long ago.
Conlin, a Hall of Fame baseball writer and author, retired just ahead of the story's publication online by The Philadelphia Inquirer, his former editor said. Conlin's lawyer said his client would not comment about the story but would fight the claims.
"Mr. Conlin is obviously floored by these allegations which supposedly happened 40 years ago. He's engaged me to do everything possible to bring the facts forward to vindicate his name," said attorney George Bochetto.
The newspaper reported that the four accusers claim Conlin groped and fondled them in the 1970s, when they were ages 7 to 12.
Kelley Blanchet, a niece of Conlin's who is now a prosecutor in Atlantic City, N.J., and others told the newspaper they were speaking out in part because of the child sex abuse allegations being faced by Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State University assistant football coach. Like in the Sandusky case, people aware of the allegations involving Conlin years ago did not go to police, the newspaper said.
"This is a tragedy," Blanchet said. "People have kept his secret. It's not just the victims, it's the victims' families. There were so many people who knew about this and did nothing."
Prosecutors in Gloucester County, N.J., took videotaped statements from the four accusers last year but said no charges would be pursued because assaults that occurred before 1996 fall under the statute of limitations. The alleged victims said they also came forward to highlight the shortcomings of those time limits.
Conlin had worked at the newspaper for more than four decades, starting in 1965 and becoming the beat writer for the Phillies the next year. He held that job for 21 years and became a columnist in 1987. He also was a commentator on the ESPN program "The Sports Reporters" and wrote two baseball-related books, the "Rutledge Book of Baseball" and "Batting Cleanup, Bill Conlin."
He received the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award presented at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and is honored in the hall's "Scribes and Mikemen" exhibit. The Baseball Writers' Association of America said the allegations would not affect his award.
Daily News editor Larry Platt, speaking at a news conference, said he accepted Conlin's offer to retire by phone on Tuesday afternoon. Platt would only characterize the conversation as "painful."
Platt said he didn't know about the allegations until Tuesday. He described the emotions in the newsroom as "overwhelmingly a sense of shock, a sense of outrage, a sense of sadness."
The Daily News and Inquirer are owned by the same company, Philadelphia Media Network, and operate out of the same building downtown but compete on stories. Inquirer editor Stan Wischnowski said at the news conference the story had been in the works for about a month.
In one recent column titled "Tough Guys Are Talking About Sandusky," Conlin questioned people who say they would have intervened had they witnessed child sex abuse.
"Everybody says he will do the right thing, get involved, put his own ass on the line before or after the fact. But the moment itself has a cruel way of suspending our fearless intentions," he wrote.