Back on Jan. 26, a memorial was held for Joe Paterno on Penn State's campus. Several speakers paid tribute to Paterno that day, but none delivered a more fiery, impassioned defense of the man than Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Knight, who called Paterno his hero, received the loudest ovations of the day as he criticized the school's board of trustees and other leaders. He painted Paterno as free of guilt in the entire Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"Whatever the details of the investigation, this much is clear to me: If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno's response," Knight said. He later earned roaring cheers by listing Paterno's accomplishments and then asking, "Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?"
I remember at the time feeling very uneasy about Knight's remarks. They certainly played well before a full house of Paterno supporters. But how could Knight possibly know what really went on at Penn State and what Paterno did or did not know and do about the Sandusky allegations?
Well, today, we learned a lot more about Paterno's role in the sordid affair. And Knight followed up his incendiary January remarks with this official statement:
"Other than my parents, my college coach, Bill Bowerman, was the biggest influence in my life. Bill Bowerman and Joe Paterno shared some great qualities. Throughout Joe Paterno’s career, he strived to put young athletes in a position to succeed and win in sport but most importantly in life. Joe influenced thousands of young men to become better leaders, fathers and husbands.
According to the investigation, it appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day. My love for Joe and his family remains."
Nike also announced that the child-care center at its corporate headquarters would no longer be named after Paterno. Nike president and CEO Mark Parker announced the move in another statement.
"I have been deeply saddened by the news coming out of this investigation at Penn State. It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes. With the findings released today, I have decided to change the name of our child care center at our World Headquarters. My thoughts are with the victims and the Penn State community."
Nike has a long relationship with Penn State and will continue to outfit its sports teams. It's understandable that Knight revered JoePa and wanted to honor his legend. But his remarks in January went too far, and now he has had to sheepishly retreat from them.