Pat Summitt: My Personal Feminist Icon

By Maddie Granato, age 24

Basketball was a huge (read: gigantic, all-consuming, etc.) part of my being until a little over two years ago, when I graduated from college, hung up my sneakers and have since struggled to find another form of physical exercise I enjoy as much as shooting three pointers. I’ve avoided writing anything that has to do with the sport because I needed space to find my own voice – I want to use Young Women Rising as a platform to stretch outside my comfort zone, to extend beyond something I already know so well.

But with the death of the legendary Pat Summitt just a few days ago, I can’t resist.

I love basketball with every inch of my heart – and that’s only somewhat of an exaggeration. I was never interested in any other sport growing up – it was basketball from second grade to senior year of college, without interruption and just a handful of teary, post-loss “I want to quit” pleas to my parents. I love to watch it, I used to love to competitively play it, and I still find solace and relaxation in an hour or two spent alone in my backyard, headphones and Spalding and a 10 ft. tall hoop.

The passing of Pat Summitt is devastating – to her family (her son Tyler is a strange story, but he’s around my age and I’ll tell you I can’t imagine losing a parent so soon in life), her former players, her coaching staff and rivals. But it’s also devastating to women like me, who grew up motivated to reach the level of play warranted by Summitt’s affections, to somehow be good enough to find yourself on the same court, on her side or the other.

I grew up watching Geno Auriemma and the legends of UCONN – Sue Bird, Dianna Taurasi and Swin Cash – and yea, it was and is awesome to witness their greatness. But it was Pat Summitt who blazed a trail so bright, so permanent for women in basketball and representation of women in fields (literally and figuratively) still dominated by men.

When I was younger, I’d practice outside in my driveway and pretend to be each member of the UCONN-Tennessee 2004 national championship game. UCONN won that year, but in my own imaginary version, Tennessee would squeak out a victory. A UCONN fan by default, I guess my inner conscience just always rooted for Pat.

Can you blame me? Put this into perspective: Summitt’s 1,098 wins are the most by any coach – man or woman – in Division I basketball. In all of her years of coaching at the University of Tennessee, she never had a losing season, despite constantly facing some of the toughest schedules in the country. And in a culture that so often praises [male] athletes for ditching school to turn pro – every single one of Summitt’s players in her 38 years at Tennessee graduated.

But it was never her career that was always so impressive to me. It was her very being, on and off the court. Pat taught me that it was okay to be competitive, to have some grit. To mean business on and off the court, to (kindly) take no sh** from anyone, anywhere.

I played Division III basketball at Union College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York. I didn’t play for Pat Summitt and can only guess how much she was valued and loved from the stories I’ve read over the years and especially from the out pour of support from her former players over the past few days.

What gives me a tiny inkling, though, is the relationship I had with my own Coach – a woman full of quirks and bad jokes who spent four years pissing me off, making me laugh and teaching me how to lead. We’ve never talked about it, but I can guess Pat Summitt influenced her, too. She’s influenced all of us.

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