Tennessee’s Toughest Opponent – Pat Summitt’s Status

I have nothing but admiration and respect for the legacy University of Tennessee Head Basketball Coach Pat Summitt has crafted over almost four decades of coaching there.   She is one of the greatest basketball coaches ever; man, woman, alien.  Period.

I am somewhat conflicted as to if there was a need for her to reveal her medical condition, an Alzheimer’s type, early onset Dementia.  I would have automatically praised her for going public…if she had resigned her position.

Don’t know if I am the lone voice delivering what clearly will be the opposing view on the subject.  But I don’t need validation someone else feels this way in order to explain my reasoning of what probably comes across initially as being cruel and less than humanitarian.

I had a relative who suffered terribly from Dementia before passing away.  Each day was filled with uncertainty for him…and those around him.  You had no crystal ball as to his clarity, or ours, from day-to-day.

Tennessee Athletics Director Joan Cronan indeed said in a statement, “Life is an unknown, and none of us have a crystal ball.  But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for: excellence, strength, honesty and courage.”

Agreed.  And that is how she should be remembered.  The best way to ensure that is to let her deal with her new-found condition…and Tennessee with theirs.

Because make no mistake about it, reality will soon enough be the great equalizer in the tragic news and subsequent sadness we all should feel over this development.  She has been honest enough to admit she sought medical advice because it was already affecting her coaching last season.  That in itself has opened the door going forward for even more second-guessing which comes naturally to fans and analysts alike in evaluating coaching moves and motivations.

Now, you throw in her assistants and players to the mix.  Who is in charge?  Are the right things being communicated behind the scenes…in the huddle?  And…the questions about her health will be daily in their direction…not just Summitt’s.

The program will become a Petri dish for micro-examination on two levels…one, how does she look and act (camera shots galore)…two, who was responsible for the decision to leave so-and-so in with four fouls, or switch defenses at a key point, etc., etc.  Can you imagine the pressure on analysts of Tennessee games trying to dance around second-guessing decisions gone wrong?  What kind of hard-hitting reporting are we going to get if next season goes sideways?  This isn’t a program used to negative results.

And as heartless as it is, the uncertainty over the future leadership of the Vol program will be mentioned on more than one occasion to more than one recruit considering whether to go to UT.

Baylor Head Coach Kim Mulkey was quoted as saying, “But whether Pat Summit has Dementia or any other ailment, she has earned the right to stay on the sideline for as long as she wants.  Not only the university, but the entire state of Tennessee, is going to take care of Pat.”

That brings us to the University of Tennessee, who has now been put in the unenviable position of having to monitor the program on a daily basis and may be forced to force Summitt to step down before she wants to.  They have become the “caretaker” indeed.

She has indicated her assistants will have more responsibility.  But there’s only room for one leader on the sidelines.  You get input from assistants and then make your call.  It’s your team.  It’s your job. It’s your responsibility.  The camera, the pressure…is on YOU.

It is a slam dunk Summitt sees basketball, the program, the players, the coaches and the University all as her family.  Sticking with what she loves, and the family she loves, certainly seems logical…especially if time is running out for her to enjoy them.

Well, her family needs to step up and take care of her after all these years of her taking care of them.  Stress helps no disease or condition, it only worsens.  It takes no prisoners.  No crystal ball here, but the one certainty is Alzheimer’s is not curable.

The N.C. State basketball program recently went through a similar situation with longtime great Head Coach Kay Yow as she waged her battle with Cancer.  These situations take a toll on not just the person with the ailment but everyone around and associated with them.  I am questioning the fairness of that to those people.  Is this necessary?  Is this just?

Staying in her present role with this condition takes tremendous courage.

Perhaps an even greater sign of courage…and the most unselfish of all actions…would be to decline that role.


About sportsattitudes

I'm Bruce. Born, raised and still outside the City of Brotherly Love. Managed (so far) to visit a dozen of our United States and Canada (twice). Addicted from birth to Television/Movies/Sports. Took three years of French and got credit for two of 'em.
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2 Responses to Tennessee’s Toughest Opponent – Pat Summitt’s Status

  1. I am such a fan of Pat, and have been for years. She is an outstanding women’s basketball coach. Having said that, I am not sure how well she will do on the sidelines. I had an aunt that suffered from this disease, and as you said everyday was different. Coaching is not an easy job. Takes a lot of preparation and strategizing. Will she be able to do this at the level she has for many years? Will trying to do this affect her health? Will she hurt the team even more by being there? Who knows……


  2. Danielle, I have those same questions…especially since her questioning herself originally led to the diagnosis. Not the kind of thing her legacy or the university needs to put themselves through and if she wants to maintain a high quality of life, surely not. She doesn’t have to prove she’s a warrior and a winner. We aready know that.


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