Editorial: Pat Summitt a key player in empowerment of women athletes
Decades before women’s college basketball became a big thing, Pat Summitt was fighting to make it anything.
Years before throngs packed arenas for NCAA Women’s Final Fours, Pat Summitt was toiling as a 22-year-old coach at the University of Tennessee for $250 a month. She was washing her players’ uniforms. Driving the team van. Saving money during road trips by having her team spend nights in sleeping bags on opponents’ gym floors.
Women’s basketball wasn’t even an NCAA sport when the steely Summitt – who died at 64 in late June due to complications from early onset dementia – took over at Tennessee in 1974. College women played in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, a league for what society regarded as a gender too weak for true athletics. In many states, including Tennessee at the time, high school girls played six-on-six – three on offense, three on defense, with only a “rover” allowed to cross midcourt – because their bodies were deemed too delicate for real basketball.
Title IX, the 1972 law that opened doors for women and girls in sports, eventually pushed such suppositions aside.But it took time to do it, as well as a huge shove from Summitt, the bristling coach who crashed the boys’ party with her hypercompetitiveness and a notorious glare that could cut diamonds.Summitt did more than win a Division I-record – men’s and women’s – 1,098 games in her 38-year-career. She helped win millions of young women and girls the right to be taken seriously on courts across the country.Summitt did more than claim eight national championships and lead her Volunteers to 18 Final Fours. She helped claim for athletic women the power to be taken seriously. She helped lead young girls, including those shooting baskets or kicking soccer balls all over America at this very moment, to a place where being as fierce as boys on the ballfield was just fine.
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