May 29, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - President Barack Obama presented Tennessee Women's Basketball Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Summitt was one of 13 individuals bestowed with our nation's highest civilian honor, awarded to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Summitt was honored along with former 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. It was so great to share this wonderful moment with my friends and family, and this is recognition that I want all of my current and former Lady Vol players and staff, and Tennessee fans to share as well."
Pat Summitt's introduction, prior to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports. Over 38 seasons she proudly led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to 32 SEC Tournament and regular season championships and eight national titles, becoming the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. On the court Coach Summitt inspired young women across our country to shoot even higher in pursuit of their dreams. Off the court she has inspired us all by turning her personal struggle into a public campaign to combat Alzheimer's disease. Pat Summitt's strength and character exemplify all that is best about athletics in America.
Opening statement from President Obama:
"It is an extraordinary pleasure to be here with all of you to present this year's Medals of Freedom. I have to say just looking around the room, this is a packed house which is a testament to how cool this group is. Everybody wanted to check them out. This is the highest civilian honor that this country can bestow, which is ironic, because nobody sets out to win it. No one ever picks up a guitar or fights a disease or starts a movement thinking, `You know what? If I keep this up, in 2012 I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama.' That wasn't in the plan. That's exactly what makes this award so special. Every one of today's honorees is blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent. All of them are driven but we could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven. What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people. Not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily over the course of a lifetime. Together, the honorees on this stage and the ones who couldn't be here have moved us with their words. They have inspired us with their actions. They have enriched our lives, and they have changed our lives for the better. Some of them are household names. Others have labored quietly out of the public eye. Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they have made or the influence they have had. But that's where our job comes in. It is our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives. So, today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well-led. That is the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
President Obama's introductory comments about Pat Summitt:
"When one doctor told Pat Summitt she suffered from dementia, she almost punched him. 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."
President Obama, reflecting on the impact Pat Summitt has made for women, including his daughters:
"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. 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."
"This is a tremendous and well-deserved honor for a remarkable representative of the University of Tennessee as well as the entire Volunteer state. Those who have followed her career already knew she belonged in the company of our nation's greatest treasures. Her inclusion in today's Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony affirms her status as an American icon. We are proud of Coach Summitt for her leadership and the positive impact she has had on so many, young and old."
"As a coach, Pat has afforded young women the opportunity to compete at the highest level and has helped pave the way for women to be involved in leadership roles in this country. After being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's Type, she has courageously made her personal battle public to help bring awareness to the illness and assist in the search for a cure. She has been a powerful example and motivating force for so many people, and it is very rewarding to see her honored in this way."
"It is a great accomplishment for Pat. She is well-deserving of the award. For me, it is an honor to say I have been coached by her, and I have learned so much from her. The Medal of Freedom is a great accolade to add to her collection. The President has chosen a great candidate - the best.
"I think Pat is deserving of the award for her expansion of women's sports, not just for Tennessee basketball, but for the game. She is the greatest coach to coach the game. I remember she did a television interview one day, and she said she wanted women's games to be on TV consistently. Now look where we are. There is a game on almost every single night, and she has been our leader in that process."