December 20, 2011 / 10:20 PM / 6 years ago

Philadelphia columnist retires amid abuse allegations

Sportswriter Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News speaks after being honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for Journalists for his more than 45 years of baseball coverage at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, July 23, 2011.Mike Segar

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Award-winning sports columnist Bill Conlin retired abruptly from the Philadelphia Daily News on Tuesday, the newspaper said, as a rival newspaper published an article accusing him of child sex abuse.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an article posted online on Tuesday, said three women and a man claim they were molested as children by Conlin in the 1970s.

One of them, Conlin's niece Kelley Blanchet, was quoted by the Inquirer as saying: "People have kept his secret.

"There were so many people who knew about this and did nothing," she said.

Conlin offered to retire on Tuesday afternoon, said Daily News editor Larry Platt at a news conference.

"I immediately accepted," said Platt. "It was a painful conversation."

Conlin, visited at his condominium in a gated development in Largo, Florida, by a Reuters reporter, said, "I have nothing to say" and provided contact details for his attorney before closing the door.

The condominium is about a mile from beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, and not far from the spring training camp of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team in Clearwater.

Conlin's attorney, George Bochetto, was not immediately available for comment. But he said in the newspaper that the columnist is "obviously floored by these accusations, which supposedly happened 40 years ago."

Prosecutors also could not be immediately reached for comment. A detective with the Gloucester, New Jersey prosecutor's office said in the Inquirer that criminal charges could not be pursued due to the state's statute of limitations.

According to the Inquirer, the four adults said Conlin groped and fondled them and touched their genitals when they were ages 7 to 12.

Blanchet, now a prosecutor in Atlantic City, New Jersey, told the Inquirer she and the others decided to speak out after the child sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University brought back painful memories.

At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky faces 52 counts of child sex abuse stemming from accusations from 10 adult men who say he abused them as children.

Also, at Syracuse University, a former basketball coach was accused by at least three men of abuse, and the former president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is under investigation over allegations of abuse from former youth basketball players.

Both Philadelphia newspapers are owned by Philadelphia Media Network Inc.

"I am sickened by these allegations," said Greg Osberg, publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News, at the news conference in the Daily News' lobby.

"There were several very specific claims from multiple victims and their families to support our decision to publish this article," he said.

Platt said in the Daily News newsroom, there was "a sense of shock, outrage, a sense of sadness for the victims."

Conlin started in 1965 at the Daily News, where he wrote about Penn State and other college football, professional boxing, baseball, the Olympics and tennis.

He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year.

Additional reporting by Robert Green; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton

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