Remembering Cooper Rollow: Former Chicago Tribune sports editor was great journalist, great guy

Sad to hear the news about the passing of Cooper Rollow.

Here is the obit in the Chicago Tribune.

Rollow, who was 87, was the Tribune’s sports editor from 1969-76, a period of major change and innovation in the newspaper’s sports section. He turned a couple young reporters loose on their beats: Bob Verdi on the Blackhawks and Don Pierson on the Bears.

It seems hard to believe, but the Tribune didn’t have an African-American sportswriter until Rollow hired Fred Mitchell in 1974. Mitchell did a tribute to Rollow.

The late hulking sportswriter John Husar sauntered over to me in the newsroom during one of my first days at the Tribune, placed his meaty right hand on my shoulder and announced in his booming voice: “The Chicago Tribune has hired a black sportswriter! What has the world come to?”

I smiled uncomfortably at his proclamation, then realized the historic significance of my hire by Rollow, which came 27 years after major league baseball was integrated by Jackie Robinson. While this was never something we discussed, I suppose Rollow had become my Branch Rickey.

Pierson recalled Rollow’s finest hour as a journalist came during his coverage of the Munich Massacre.

His work turned deadly serious on Sept. 5, 1972, when he was covering the Olympic Games in Munich, along with his colleague, longtime Tribune sportswriter Robert Markus.  That day, they unexpectedly found themselves writing not about swimming, marathon runners and gymnastics but about terrorism, as 11 members of Israel’s Olympic team were killed by members of the Palestinian group Black September.

“Cooper was first and foremost a terrific reporter, and he had more fun in sports journalism than anybody I ever saw,” retired Tribune pro football reporter Don Pierson said.  “But he showed what a serious reporter he was at the Olympics in Munich.  I think his legacy as a reporter would start with the way he covered that massacre.”

By the time I arrived at the Tribune, Rollow had stepped aside from being an editor and wrote about pro football, his true love. I was 25 when I got assigned to be Pierson’s No. 2 man on the Bears in 1985. I get the all-time great timing award for that one.

Rollow, 60 at the time, didn’t pull any veteran stuff on me. He couldn’t have been any nicer. He treated me as an equal, going out of his way to show it was done. It was an important lesson that I now try to carry on when I work with younger reporters.

“Coop” was just a great guy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone say a negative word about him. He was a beloved fixture in the Tribune Tower. The business would be in better shape with a few more journalists like “Coop.”


One thought on “Remembering Cooper Rollow: Former Chicago Tribune sports editor was great journalist, great guy

  1. Ed, he was married to our high school journ teacher. He used to come and speak to us; he was very patient with our inane questions.

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