Summing It Up
A fitting tribute to Pat Summitt airs tonight in the Nine for IX film series.
by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
Forty years ago, the United States government passed Title IX, which stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity.” This was a catalyst for equal rights in athletics, a turning point that offered women the opportunity to follow a path on becoming professional athletes, regardless of sport and be treated as equals to their male colleagues. While Title IX paved the way for many, including the formation of the WNBA, it was only two years after the bill passed that Pat Summitt started her first coaching job as the head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers in 1974. The rest as they say is history, but what is history if it’s not documented?
espnW and ESPN Films celebrate Title IX’s anniversary with Nine for IX—nine films showcasing stories of women who have shaped sport, all from a female’s perspective. Pat XO is fittingly the first feature film in the series (directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern)—as Summitt is the coach with the most wins in NCAA history, male or female.
Pat XO lets those who know her best tell the story. During her 38 years at Tennessee she coached 161 players, and many of them including Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw are in the film. Her coaching staff and coaches she competed against in Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey share anecdotes, in addition to Tennessee alum Peyton Manning, country singer Kenny Chesney, family and friends. Perhaps there are too many voices, yet between them, the footage and photos, her son Tyler who grew up in the middle of the action, as an honorary Volunteer conducts a casual interview with his mom.
Although Summitt left the game with 1,098 wins, eight National Championships and 16 SEC titles, the movie charts her incredible life as a girl growing up in Henrietta, TN, all the way to her announcement of early onset dementia (Alzheimer’s), which eventually caused her to retire last year at the age of 60. In between those bookends, lies a story of a competitor, a coach and a mother who “taught, transformed and elevated” those around her.
Like its title, Pat XO is about the woman first and basketball coach second. Yet it doesn’t diminish her legacy, particularly, as she accomplished something her colleagues, or counterparts on the men’s side couldn’t—win the most games in NCAA Division I basketball. Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest collegiate coach ever, is second with 957 wins and will likely pass her only due to her retirement.
Last April, Summitt was named Head Coach emeritus of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team. She will forever be associated with the school and forever linked to her players. She forged her path before legislation was laid out to help women in sport and while the rule of Title IX may have afforded her certain opportunities, Summitt made a career of making and playing by her own rules.
Pat XO airs on Tuesday, July 9 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN.