Yesterday, Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt — who is essentially Joe Paterno crossed with Mike Krzyzewski mixed with Phil Jackson, only cubed — announced that she was suffering from "early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type." It was a shocking, cruel turn for women's basketball's most celebrated, beloved coach. Summitt will coach the Volunteers this season, with the help of assistants who have been with her for decades.
This story is an awful one, but as told by Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post this morning, it becomes heroic and deeply moving. Jenkins, who classifies Summitt as "her closest friend," pens a heartbreaking, warm, extremely well-constructed column with the tender care of someone who is writing like they were put on earth simply to write this column.
There are so many amazing passages, but the one that kills us is the one about Summitt's son.
Most nights, however, [Tyler Summitt] spends at home. When everyone departs the Summitt household there are two people left, gazing at each other with a deep, indestructible understanding. Suddenly, something becomes clear: Summitt’s qualities and legacy have been vastly underrated. All these years, while she was coaching basketball and teaching other people’s daughters, she very quietly and without any fanfare, did a stupendous job of mothering her son.
“I followed her everywhere growing up,” Tyler says. “I followed her on bus rides, airplanes, in gyms and in locker rooms all over the country, and I thought she taught me everything she had. But she saved this lesson, to always come out and be open, to not be scared, to have the courage to face the truth like she’s doing.”
It's a riveting read that is very likely to make you cry. In 1993, Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated wrote the definitive piece on Jim Valvano's fight with cancer, one that still stands as one of the more crowning achievements in modern sportswriting. (It also secured — and even whitewashed — Valvano's legacy, assuring that you'll see him on ESPN until the end of time.) Jenkins' piece, we sense, is going to have a similar impact, with a subject who's even more inspiring. Go read it. Now.