President Obama Mourns Basketball Coaching Legend Pat Summitt

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Jun 28, 2016 11:45 AM
President Obama Mourns Basketball Coaching Legend Pat Summitt

On Tuesday morning, the sports world awoke to the devastating news that basketball coaching legend Pat Summitt had passed away from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 64. Summitt, who won eight NCAA championships as the coach of the University of Tennessee's Women's Basketball team, won more games than any NCAA basketball coach--male or female.

In 2012, shortly after her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's became known, Summitt was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In a statement released by the White House, the Obamas expressed their condolences to Summitt's family and expressed their admiration for her work on and off the court. Obama highlighted her trailblazing in women's athletics in the pre-Title IX era and before the NCAA even recognized women's basketball as a sport.

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. Her unparalleled success includes never recording a losing season in 38 years of coaching?, but also, and more importantly, a 100 percent graduation rate among her players who completed their athletic eligibility. 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. As Pat once said in recalling her achievements, “What I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.”

Pat learned early on that everyone should be treated the same. When she would play basketball against her older brothers in the family barn, they didn’t treat her any differently and certainly didn’t go easy on her. Later, her Hall of Fame career would tell the story of the historic progress toward equality in American athletics that she helped advance. Pat started playing college hoops before Title IX and started coaching before the NCAA recognized women’s basketball as a sport. When she took the helm at Tennessee as a 22-year-old, she had to wash her players’ uniforms; by the time Pat stepped down as the Lady Vols’ head coach, her teams wore eight championship rings and had cut down nets in sold-out stadiums.

Pat was a patriot who earned Olympic medals for America as a player and a coach, and I was honored to award her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was a proud Tennessean who, when she went into labor while on a recruiting visit, demanded the pilot return to Knoxville so her son could be born in her home state. And she was an inspiring fighter. Even after Alzheimer’s started to soften her memory, and she began a public and brave fight against that terrible disease, Pat had the grace and perspective to remind us that “God doesn’t take things away to be cruel. … He takes things away to lighten us. He takes things away so we can fly.”

Michelle and I send our condolences to Pat Summitt’s family – which includes her former players and fans on Rocky Top and across America.

ESPN compiled many of the moving tributes to Summitt from former players, fellow coaches, and other athletes.

Despite Summitt's unparalleled success on the court, it's arguably more impressive that she maintained a 100 percent graduation rate among all of her players who completed their eligibility at Tennessee over her 38-year career.

Rest in peace, Pat.