The passing of Pat Summitt and her influence on the WNBA generation.
Growing up, my father would regularly ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” And my answer often echoed the things my classmates would cheer about on career day. “A teacher. A nurse. An actress!”
I distinctly remember when my career aspirations took a right turn toward feminism. In April of 1996, the NBA Board of Governors approved the creation of the WNBA. That year, an entire generation of little girls dreamed a little bigger. As professional athletes, Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and others opened up a door of possibility for myself and thousands of others who yearned for positive role models outside of prime time television.
At the same time, my parents — like many boomers — were reinforcing the importance of education in achieving my dreams as a pro-athlete. So I looked to collegiate athletics as a goal and benchmark of success on the way to the big league.
The founding year of the WNBA also marked the 4th (of 8) NCAA Women’s Division I Championships won by Pat Summit and the Lady Vols basketball team. Like many middle school girls, I became enchanted with the drive, leadership, and success of Pat Summitt. Of course, I also found her intensity and vocal volume a bit scary as a budding athlete at 10 years old. But let’s be honest, her passion and hoarse voice at the end of a tight game excited me a bit, too.
While Pat was showing me the path to the pros, my father was encouraging me to strive for the White House. I took their words and their trophies as examples and lessons for how I could create my own greatness.
Compounded by my own father’s recent diagnosis with alzheimer’s, the passing of Pat Summitt today has brought about bouts of nostalgia, reflection, gratitude, and sadness. I’m realizing that my father and Pat are intertwined in my memories as seeding my first dreams to do great things in this world. At the same time I am confronted with the tension created by the mortality of my idols and the intensity in which they have influenced my life.
My goals and opportunities have ebbed and flowed along with my values and priorities over the years. Yet I’m still grateful for the dreams those women in the spotlight during the mid-90s and my father helped to create. Going pro wasn’t in the cards and I don’t have the teeth for politics, but the lessons I learned as an athlete striving for greatness will stay with me forever.
Knowing the immense influence and impact my coaches (talking to you, Lori Jepsen) and my parents played in the decisions I’ve made in my life, I can only imagine the exponential impact marked by Pat as a coach, national role model, and pioneer in collegiate sports in the US.
Thank you, Pat, for moving the needle for women in sports, for inspiring generations of girls, and reminding me that through thick and thin, family first.