More Than a Woman: The Legacy of Pat Summitt

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By Nikasi Doorn 

I was shocked to hear that Pat Summitt had recently passed due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The woman who initially brought the excitement and popularity to women’s college basketball, who changed the game of women’s sports and captured the hearts of not only women athletes, but people in general, is gone. It’s definitely a hard pill to swallow. Summitt was the reason why women’s basketball is as widely recognized as it is today, the reason why little girls had the ambition to become basketball players; they had it instilled in their mind that their gender was not any indication of what they can accomplish.

Deep down I always believed that throughout sports history, women’s sports were vastly overshadowed by male sports in America. Not to undermine the many talented female athletes who have graced the courts, but women’s basketball tended to get swept up and lost in the a wave of hype over the male NCAA and the NBA. Summitt was the one who changed that. She was the type of woman who displayed a level of determination that was borderline frightening. Coaching the University of Tennessee Lady Vols with skill that rivaled that of the Wizard of Westwood himself, John Wooden, former head coach for UCLA’s men’s basketball team. While Wooden broke the record books with seven consecutive NCAA championships, Summitt paved her way into sports history with 1,098 career wins, the most wins amassed by any D-1 coach, male or female.

Perhaps that is the reason I had any interest in women’s basketball in the first place. As a kid, I remember hearing about and catching glimpses of New York Liberty games on television. From there, I found women’s college basketball, sitting in my living room, watching the Huskies terrorize D-1 basketball for 90 straight games from 2008 to 2010. Looking back, I now know that if it wasn’t for Summitt’s vision of making sure that women were confident enough in their abilities to go to college and play ball, none of these moments would have happened. There would be less life in the bleachers at the games, less team colors decorating the stands, and less talented women athletes playing basketball.

Where would the game of women’s basketball be, had it not been for 18-year old Tennessee native Pat Head who, before the passing of Title IX, played for the University of Tennessee at Martin without being offered an athletic scholarship? Would the amount of women’s basketball fans be this large if that same young woman didn’t love the game enough to sleep on her opponents’ gym floor with her teammates, only to wake up and play three straight games without washing uniforms, all for the love of the game? How many talented young athletes would we have lost, had it not been for the woman who spent her years as head coach of the Lady Vols driving them to games, washing their uniforms, and operating on a $250 monthly salary with the sole purpose to drive these young women to be something spectacular?

It is very sobering to realize that Pat Summitt is gone now. However, it is with great fondness that we remember her legacy: her 16 SEC Championships, 8 NCAA Championships, 8 SEC Coach of the Year Awards, 7 NCAA Coach of the Year Awards, her gold medal coaching the 1984 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, her silver medal playing for the 1976 women’s Olympic basketball team, her Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by president Obama, and many more. Yet, lest us not forget her greatest achievement: the millions of people, men and women, sports enthusiast or not, who were inspired by her hard work and passion. To that end, I say we salute Pat Summitt for everything she has accomplished and for everyone she continues to inspire.