Mixed emotions are being felt throughout the sports community. The country awoke Sunday to the news that legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno had lost his battle with cancer.
If this was a year ago most of the country would have been mourning the loss of one of the best coaches in the history of sports. Unfortunately his legacy is now also marked by scandal as well. Not paying players, or fixing grades, or recruiting violations, but by something much much worse. The abuse of children by coaches under his watch.
It has not been proven or even suggested by media that Paterno was involved in the actual abuse of children, but it still happened under his watch and leadership, and is thus guilty by association. No different than if a a child commits a crime and the parents will always be linked.
Today is not about the scandal though, we will hear enough about that in the next weeks, months, and years to come. Today is about remembering the coach that will be missed in college football. I personally never met Paterno, but a friend and former colleague of mine did have the chance to meet the Penn State coach and today I contacted him to get his unbiased opinion about Paterno the coach and the man.
Michael David Smith has been a well known sports blogger before blogging was cool. He has won awards and has written for publications such as Sports Illustrated, AOL, Pro Football Talk, etc. Mike was also the editor of SB Nation Chicago before I was fortunate to get the position. I knew MDS had the opportunity to meet Paterno back in 2009 and wanted to get the thoughts and opinions from someone that really is neutral, unlike those you hear on TV who played for or went to Penn State.
Mike told me: "I met Joe Paterno in 2009, when I was speaking on a panel about the changing face of the sports media to an audience that included all of the Big Ten coaches. What struck me most is that, despite talk among some that he was an out-of-touch octogenarian, he clearly understood the way the Internet changed the sports media landscape and how that affected both fans and his players. He was a smart and sharp man."
As a Chicago Sports fan I always was impressed with the effect Joe Paterno had on Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. During their pre and post game chats I was always amazed with the look on Fitzgerald's face when he shook hands with Paterno. It was the same look a young kid gets when he gets to meet or shake hands with his childhood idol.
Thank you Joe Paterno for what you did for college football and the success you had on the field. As college football and areas outside of Happy Valley mourn your legacy the next few weeks, I sure hope it's for more than just the the scandal that came out the last few months.
Rest In Peace Joe Pa.