President Barack Obama paid tribute today to former Tennessee Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt, presenting her with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, reports Michael Collins.
At a White House ceremony this afternoon, Obama reflected on Summitt’s legendary career at Tennessee, her status as a role model to the young women she coached, and her tenacity in confronting the health problem that led to her retirement last spring.
“Anyone feeling sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare,” Obama said.
Summitt was among more than a dozen political and cultural legends to receive the medal. The award is given to individuals “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Summitt, 59, stepped down as the University of Tennessee women’s head basketball coach in April, just eight months after disclosing that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Her remarkable, 38-year career included 1,098 victories and eight national championships. She was named NCAA Coach of the Year eight times and has been a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame since 1999. She now holds the position of head coach emeritus at UT.
Besides Summitt, others receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; singer and songwriter Bob Dylan; astronaut John Glenn; novelist Toni Morrison; Israeli President Shimon Peres; and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephens.
Note: The state’s Republican congressmen rushed out statements praising Pat Summitt, but somehow forgot to mention that guy who made the presentation they were applauding. A sampler is below.
From Sen. Bob Corker’s office:
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., today congratulated Pat Summitt on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. This year’s recipients of the Medal of Freedom were honored today during an afternoon ceremony at the White House.
“It’s highly appropriate that Coach Summitt is joining this very elite group of Americans who have made extraordinary contributions to our country. It’s hard to think of anyone who has had a greater impact on his or her profession, and I think we all know that Pat’s contributions to the game of basketball, to women’s athletics, to the University of Tennessee, and to our state will be felt for many, many years to come. I couldn’t be happier for her,” said Corker.
From Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on University of Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
“I could not be more proud to congratulate Pat Summitt on receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor, recognizing what Tennesseans have valued in her for so long–her remarkable skill and her strong character; her commitment to the community, UT and her players; and her love of the game, which changed women’s basketball forever. Honey and I wish her the best in what will no doubt be an equally inspiring effort to fight Alzheimer’s.”
From U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s office:
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann made the following statement in honor of Pat Summitt, who is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom today.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest award our nation can give a civilian; an award fitting for a woman with as legendary of a career as Coach Summitt. Her legacy is more than just her incredible winning record; it is also the 100% graduation rate of her players, and the countless young women who were inspired to play sports by her example. From her humble beginnings driving the team van to games, Pat Summitt built the Lady Vols into a national powerhouse with 38 straight years of winning seasons. I congratulate Coach Summitt on a well deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Fleischmann said.