You probably know by now about the petition to name the NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship trophy after Pat Summitt. And you probably also know that the petition has already received over 4,000 signatures. And while we’re talking about things you know, here are some others:
It seems to me that those things alone would have you reaching for your inscribing pen to name the National Championship trophy after her, but, of course, Pat Summitt has always been more than the sum of her stats. Sure, she collected all those trophies and plaques and medals and nets. And sure, she graduated 100 percent of her players over 38 seasons. But her legacy isn’t just about what she accomplished; its about how she changed the shape of the world for female athletes.
When Summitt took the head coaching job at UT, she was only a year older than her players. She’d recently suffered an ACL tear, something that ended careers in the 1970s, especially for women. During her first season, Summitt coached the team, drove the team’s bus (sometimes all night with the windows down in the winter just to stay awake!), did the team’s laundry, recruited, advised about academics, taught Phys Ed for the college, and rehabbed her own knee in the gym late at night so she’d have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team.
There was neither an awareness or an appreciation for women’s sports four decades ago — and Summitt changed that. She demanded a level of excellence from her players that spread exponentially into the world of women’s basketball. Her players became coaches who coached players who became coaches. As she elevated the play of the Lady Vols, other universities elevated their play to compete with her. Under her icy blue stare, Title IX was signed into law, ESPN began broadcasting women’s basketball games, little girls began trading in their dolls for balls, and her $9,000 a year starting salary climbed to six seven figures. And when, in her 38th year of coaching, she was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s, she took her fight with her disease public, so she could keep inspiring generations of women.
Yes, she is synonymous with winning, but her name also carries the weight of equality and dignity and class and intelligence and humility and hope. Her legacy is one of true heroism. And to name the Women’s Basketball National Championship trophy after her is to tie the sport to that brand of heroism forever.
I’ve signed the petition. I hope the hundreds of thousands of other girls whose lives have been changed by Pat Summitt with sign it too.