I consider myself to be one of the luckiest sports fan. My life has been touched by legendary women’s basketball coach, Pat Head Summitt. Not once, but twice.
The first occasion occurred in the early ‘90s when I attended a girl’s basketball camp at the University of Tennessee. That summer I was introduced to Lady Vol basketball. Summitt’s words of wisdom gave me confidence, and made believe that I could do anything that I set my mind to. That experience fundamentally altered the trajectory of my life.
Pat XO airs tonight (Tuesday, July 9, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN) and tells the story of Summitt’s unprecedented 38-year coaching career, which was abruptly cut short after her diagnosis of early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“There is none higher than Pat Summitt when it comes to women’s sports and for what she’s done for athletes, coaches, and not only for the world of sports, but women in general.”
If you could turn a love letter into a film, it would be Pat XO. Summitt’s closest friends, family, colleagues, and former players provide personal accounts of their relationship, all the while showing their love and appreciation for a coach who laid the foundation for where women’s sports are today. ESPN describes Pat XO as a film by those who were coached, taught, transformed and elevated by Summitt.
No one has been more impacted by Summitt’s achievements than her son, Ross “Tyler” Summitt. Ever since Tyler’s birth, which nearly occurred during a recruiting trip, he has been by her side and a major focal point of her coaching career. Whether it was his presence on the bench or standing next to her as she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he has seen it all. So it’s fitting that Tyler, one person who without question is Summitt’s rock, narrates and candidly interviews her throughout the documentary.
“We thought the most comfortable she’d ever be is sitting with her son Tyler,” said filmmakers Lax and Stern Winters. “We put our heads together, and we thought of the idea of making a scrapbook compiled of imagery that could spark stories and memories.”
Tyler delicately guides Summitt through her fondest memories of being the winningest coach in NCAA history for men’s and women’s teams, which includes 18 trips to the Final Four, 8 NCAA National Championships, and 16 SEC titles.
Yes, Summitt taught her players X’s and O’s. But the film illustrates that her coaching legacy goes far beyond 1098 victories. She changed lives for the better by instilling values and teaching memorable life lessons.
Summitt taught lessons in leadership. She led by example and never asked anyone to do anything that she would not do herself. She taught the value of being accountable, and she made sure that her players understood their role and did it well. And Summitt taught the importance toughness. She often told her players that they could decide right off if they were going to be soft or tough, and they were not allowed to give her excuses or play the victim.
Summitt herself has chosen not to play the victim. In a rare moment during the film, she was quite emotional describing her departure from coaching. She said, “It was hard because I didn’t want to, but I felt like I needed to step down.” But in true Summitt fashion, she declares that the Pat Summitt Foundation is a new opportunity to accomplish something even bigger in her life.
“There are very few people who have the impact that she has had on so many,” said Roberts. “The beauty of Pat Summitt is that a great leader doesn’t tell you, they show you, and she is continuing to do that.”
At the conclusion of the screening, I approached Summitt and thanked her for revolutionizing women’s sports. I told her my story, and I shared how much her coaching meant to me all these years later. Summitt listened attentively, congratulated me, and gave me what I was not expecting – a hug.
It’s the same hug that she gave to her 161 players and countless supporters throughout the years. Even though Summitt is no longer on the sidelines, she is still coaching and teaching us to live like champions.
Good Night Sports Fans,