Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt announced on Aug. 23, 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s-type. Since then, she’s been the subject of tributes and the recipient of numerous awards. None of it has been surprising, as we sometimes don’t appreciate people until there’s a tragedy. All of it has been well-deserved.
Today at halftime of the Tennessee-Kansas game, ESPN ran this segment on Summitt called, “A Legendary Career,” narrated by former Lady Vol Kara Lawson. It is one of the best tributes yet.
But while recognition is welcome, hypothesizing about the end of the legendary coach’s career is not. Yet, unfortunately, numerous game commentators and writers can’t seem to stop doing just that. “This may be Coach Summitt’s last year,” has been a popular refrain, as well as speculation on her health, and who will be her successor. I have heard comments from both fans and coaches alike complaining that Summitt is being treated like she’s already retired, or worse. They find it offensive.
For myself, the comments I’ve heard underscore the need for more public education on Alzheimer’s Disease. It isn’t like cancer, where you’re down for the count right away. Alzheimer’s Disease is gradual and develops differently in each person. There is no telling how it will progress in Summitt, or anyone else who has it.
Summitt has said repeatedly that she will step down when it’s time. She has always been fiercely honest, so I don’t doubt her for a moment. I also trust that associate coach Holly Warlick, who she’s known for 36 years, and assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, who she’s known for 27, would tell her if they thought she needed to retire. Commentators and writers need to butt out and stop the mindless speculation.
Let Pat Summitt handle her business, and enjoy every second of her.