How Legendary UNC Coach Dean Smith Always Managed To Take The High Road

The world of sports often seems plagued by stories of scandal, cheating, hard partying and wrongdoings.

Press conferences consume the airways denouncing players, coaches and administrators who took the wrong paths and got caught doing so. Yet, in the midst of the paparazzi-type publicity flashing news of breaking the rules, the good guys do still exist.

And, we're reminded of that when names like John Wooden, Roberto Clemente, Walter Payton and, most recently, Dean Smith are brought into conversation.

Dean Smith's legacy as a coach, and even more so as a man, is proof you can achieve incredible success while doing things the right way. Smith is one of the greats.

The choice to use present tense in saying this, despite his passing this weekend is simple: His influence and overall being lives on in many lives and programs still today.

As former players and colleagues called and wrote in to comment on his passing, one thing was starkly clear: He will be remembered for his two National Championships, for coaching arguably the greatest player of all time in Michael Jordan and for his remarkable 879 wins at UNC.

But, more than that, he'll be remembered as a man who committed to taking the high road, on and off the court, and influenced others to do the same.

He took an active stand for civil rights, served as a father figure to many of his players, boasted remarkably high graduation rates and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dean Smith, and those who live by the same values, morals and passion he exemplified, is a shining light for the argument that sports aren't just interests or hobbies; they are a way of life, and a respectable one at that.

They teach us, from the time we first step foot onto a tee-ball field to the time we retire our jerseys, that the way we conduct our lives and ourselves both matter.

Headlines often suggest sports have become corrupt; in order to win, you have to cheat, and money runs the business.

At times in our current landscape, I'd have to agree it does seem that way. Yet, at its most fundamental level, that's not what sports are about at all. Smith's career on and off the court is a testament to that.

Sports are a platform to teach athletes about persistence, loyalty and being about something bigger than one's self.

For every story of an athlete playing the game wrong or doing life similarly, there's also a story to be found of an athlete acting in accordance to what sports merit.

There's the inspiration of Austin Hatch, overcoming insurmountable odds and adversity to play basketball again.

There's the story of JJ Watt sending pizza to police officers and firefighters as a token of thanks for the work they do. There's the Drew Brees Dream Foundation, which has provided over $20 million to those in need.

While these stories don't negate the wrongdoing of other players, or justify the flaws often embedded in systems, they do highlight how powerful sports can be when the game is coached and played correctly.

It's no wonder those who had the honor of interacting with Smith are singing his praises today. He did the sports world right by acting in congruence with the sanctity it deserves.

After all, it's not just about the final numbers on the scoreboard or who wins the championship game.

Long after the arena lights go off, the game of life continues. In this age of "if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'," Dean Smith's legacy shines even brighter than before. He stepped above the ranks of cheating or merely trying.

Smith took the highest road, and in doing so, challenged every player and coach he encountered to do the same.