The Big Mac Blog

Pat Summitt could leave knowing the world is better because of her

Hall of Fame Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt died on Tuesday morning. She came to Fort Worth for a game against TCU in 2000.
Hall of Fame Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt died on Tuesday morning. She came to Fort Worth for a game against TCU in 2000. SPECIAL TO THE STAR-TELEGRAM

Other than Richard Nixon, who signed Title IX into legislation in 1972, no person did more for women’s sports than Pat Summitt.

Whatever the considerable challanges that John Wooden, Bob Knight, Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells, Tony LaRussa, Larry Brown, Mike Krzyzewski dealt with and conquered during their respective careers none of them ever had to deal with the type of sexism and dismissive attitudes that she handled and ignored throughout her professional existence.

Pat was accutely aware of who she was, which included her standing as a role model to females who aspired to call themselves Coach. For a lack of proper English, Pat Summitt was a bad ass - a titan among her peers, male or female. Whether you were big, little, male or female, you did not mess with Pat Summitt.

Of the many powers of sport I have been fortunate to be around, none was any more intimidating than Pat Summitt. You did not not respect Pat Summitt. She could have coached a men’s team long before that thought seemed conceivable.

On Tuesday morning in Tennessee, Pat Summitt died after a fight with Alzheimer’s Disease, which had been diangosed five years ago. She was 64.

Alzheimer’s was the one opponent Summitt could not defeat.

President Barack Obama was one of scores of people who expressed their immediate sadness at the departure of a life that affected millions.

“Nobody walked off a college basketball court victorious more times than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters,” Obama wrote in a statement. “Her legacy, however, is measured much more by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to practice hard, play harder, and live with courage on and off the court.”

Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, who knew Summitt well, wrote this moving piece that should be shared - it’s a letter from Summitt to a player, but it could be sent to all of us.

Summitt coached in Fort Worth one time - on November 27, 2000 against TCU in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum; the game drew a school-record 7,262. The Lady Vols were ranked No. 2 in the nation, and had no business playing a then mid-major team on the road.

But Summitt was aware of the need to spread her team around for the sake of the sport. The Lady Vols were the biggest brand in women’s basketball and they routinely sold out arenas all over the country.

Her players were normally the best in the nation, but they turned over; the arenas sold out because of Pat.

“What I remember about that game was when she came out on the floor it was a rock star coming out on the floor with everyone taking pictures,” former TCU women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie said. “There are only a few people in this game that you can say their name and everyone knows it. Pat was one of them. She understood that was her responsibility and she did it for a lot of people.”

Summitt was the ultimate ambassador of women’s sports for little girls who wanted to play, and for your young women who wanted sports to be a career.

Before Summitt, not many women had the opportunity to pursue ball as a career. Summitt was part of the first Title IX generation that at least had a chance to play, however small that opportunity was.

Summitt took that sliver of a shot and blew open a crater that created a path for millions of women who live off her efforts every day. And this is to say nothing of the people she had to irritate to build her team at Tennessee.

However “small” you think women’s basketball, or women’s sports, are today they were damn near nothing when she started in Knoxville in 1974.

As great and eternal as the legacies are created by men such as Lombardi, Wooden and so many others, none of them had to deal with the types of hassles, headaches and degradation endured by Summitt.

They didn’t have to create a career and beg for equality.

She did all of it and in the process earned the respect and admiration of every single person who knew the name Pat Summitt.

Every girl who plays or coaches today is forever indebted to Pat Summitt, who while she is gone will truly live forever.