Obama, TN politicians join in tributes to Pat Summitt

Statement of President Barrack Obama, as issued by White House press office

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.

Statement from Gov. Bill Haslam:

“We have lost one of the greatest Tennesseans of all time. Anyone who knows Pat knows she was intensely focused on her mission, which in her case meant winning basketball games, but you also know that she never lost sight of the bigger picture in the midst of that. She made certain that every woman that played for her graduated and was prepared for life after basketball. She also made certain that she was a part of the larger community. I have so many great memories of Pat, not only of her winning eight championships, but of her being the United Way chair in Knoxville and sitting down with me one-on-one to talk through what she had learned about how to accomplish goals. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that Pat changed the lives of so many people – some of us in a direct way, but everybody in terms of having a vision of what it looked like to be focused on your mission but to remember that there was a bigger picture going on that was way beyond winning basketball games, even though she did win a whole lot of basketball games.”

The governor also has a video commentary on Summitt, HERE.

Statement from Sen. Lamar Alexander
“It’s hard for people outside Tennessee to understand just how much Pat Summitt became a part of the lives of so many citizens in our state. She took time for community events. She taught us the game of women’s college basketball. And she was so up front and personal about it, with her famous stare and her discussion of her extraordinary athletes, what their strengths were and what they had to work on, we all felt we not only knew her, we knew the athletes as well.

“Pat did far more than win eight national championships: she changed the lives of the young women she coached, she showed us the measure of a real champion and her fight against Alzheimer’s set an example for us all.”

Statement of Sen. Bob Corker

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Pat Summitt. Basketball has lost a legend, and Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved daughters.

“There is perhaps no one who left a more indelible mark on his or her profession than Coach Summitt. Through her 38 years as head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, she amassed a historic record of achievement and blazed a trail for women across our country. The impact she had on her players, the University of Tennessee, the Knoxville community, and the game of basketball will be felt for years to come. I join all Tennesseans today in celebrating her life and extend my thoughts and prayers to her son, Tyler, the Lady Vol family, and all those who were touched by her remarkable life.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais

“Coach Summitt was truly a legend and an inspiration for her work both on and off the court. Throughout her extraordinary career she brought an unmatched level of pride to both the sport of basketball, University of Tennessee and the entire Volunteer State. Coach Summitt’s life should serve as a model for anyone to strive toward. She was a fierce competitor, a selfless mentor and dedicated advocate of women’s athletics. Time and time again she led her players to victory both on the court and in the classroom. In fact, under her leadership every Lady Volunteer player who finished her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated. If a Mount Rushmore of college coaches existed, her image would certainly be etched upon it.”