WASHINGTON — Tennessee women’s basketball head coach emeritus Pat Summitt has won every honor imaginable in an unmatched career on the hardwood.
On Tuesday, her accolades reached a new level.
Standing amongst 13 political and cultural luminaries, Summitt was presented the nation's highest civilian honor—the Medal of Freedom—by President Barack Obama.
"When I think about my two daughters who are tall and gifted, knowing that (because of) folks like Coach Summitt, they are standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong,” the president said in the East Room of the White House. “Then I understand the impact that these people have had extends beyond me. It will continue for generations to come. What an extraordinary honor to be able to say thank you to them for the great work that they have done on behalf of this country and on behalf of the world."
The Medal of Freedom is presented to people who have made meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace or to other significant endeavors.
Along with Summitt, the president also recognized U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, civil rights champion John Doar, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, physician William Foege, astronaut John Glenn, professor and human rights advocate Gordon Hirabayashi, civil rights, workers and women's advocate Dolores Huerta, Polish Underground officer Jan Karski, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, novelist Toni Morrison, Israeli President Shimon Peres and retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.
"It was a tremendous honor to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom," Summitt said. "I felt incredibly humbled to be sitting among such a distinguished group that has positively impacted our society.”
Summitt was honored for not only her coaching career, but her work for the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund and her stoic battle with early-onset dementia.
"When one doctor told Pat Summitt she suffered from dementia, she almost punched him,” Obama said in his introductory comments on Summitt. “When a second doctor advised her to retire, she responded, `Do you know who you are dealing with here?' Obviously they did not. As Pat says, `I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn and call the cows, but what I'm really known for is winning.' In 38 years at Tennessee she racked up eight national championships, more than 1,000 wins.
“Understand, this is more than any college coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA. And more importantly, every player that has gone through her program has either graduated or is on her way to a degree. That's why anybody who feels sorry for Pat will find himself on the receiving end of that famous glare. Or she might punch you. She still is getting up every day and doing what she does best, which is teaching. The players, she says, are her best medicine."