editorial (2007-15)

Pat Summitt

She's the best ever at her game, isn't she?

Imus in the Dark

Pat Summitt

The Lady Vols' 2007 NCAA women's basketball championship is more than just Coach Pat Summitt's seventh. It is a statement that the UT women's program is as good as it ever was--probably better.

It's inarguable that Summitt's earlier six NCAA titles were recorded before parity was achieved among Division 1 women's basketball schools. She had an edge for most of those years, and she used it very well. That's not to say she wasn't the finest coach among her peers. It's just the way things were.

For this championship, however, Summitt pushed and pulled her Lady Vols to the top of a pack of a couple dozen schools with very talented teams. Parity has all but arrived in women's college basketball, and the '07 crown validated Summit's approach to the game as none of the others did.

She is, as one ESPN announcer put it, the best coach in college basketball.

Her record in achieving championships, the most amazing total since UCLA's legendary John Wooden's, is beyond the reach of her peers. She is the all-time winningest college hoops coach. She is young enough to lengthen that record well beyond 1,000 victories, and she shows every indication that she will stay right here at Tennessee to do it.

In some ways it's remarkable that Summitt hasn't been openly recruited to coach another major college men's team. UT, which struggled through a series of unacceptable coaching experiences on the men's side after Don DeVoe was displaced, could have used her there and made overtures at one point. She demurred. Thanks, but no thanks.

There are men and women coaching women's teams, but no women coaching men in the college basketball arena. Men's basketball would not have intimidated her. Of that there is little doubt. Just watch her.

But she shows no interest in switching to the men's game; she's comfortable and fairly well remunerated, and she's respected to the point of reverence for what she's accomplished in her sport. She's among the more sought-after motivational speakers in America.

The crew she put together for this year's championship season was adept at working together and working with the women's national player of the year, Candace Parker, whose glee at completing passes for assists was more evident than her joy at scoring herself.

There's not a lot to say about Parker's skills that won't be said again next year and the year after if she stays, and stays healthy, through her senior season. Parker was a phenomenal high-school basketball star. But coming to UT and playing for Summitt and Summitt's terrific assistant coaches has made her better and will keep making her better, even though she'd be a starter on any women's pro team right now.

Only a very limited number of people ever get to play any game for a coach who's acknowledged as the best there is and ever was. John Wooden thinks she's the best. It helps with recruiting for the future, of course, but her presence--whether at courtside or on the speaker's podium--has done more for the image of the University of Tennessee on the national scene than any other single person's over the last 30-plus years.

If people everywhere think of Pat Summitt when they think of UT, we're OK with that.

Imus in the Dark

His disparagement of the Rutgers women's basketball team as a bunch of "nappy-headed hos" was his ultimate undoing. He should quit, rather than be fired. He displayed a loss of moral compass with that remark, one   that he'll never outlive.

It was the "hos" that did it, only exacerbated by the blatant racist reference. He called a group of young women he'd never met and never seen except on the basketball floor "whores."

Those college students are innocents, barely adults, elevated by their own skills to the national scene for 40 minutes in a national championship game. They are in no way comparable to the public figures Imus has lampooned with racist stereotypes and gotten away with in the past.

Even he says he stepped over the line. He apologizes profusely for the racism. But what about the pointed, personal misogyny?

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a high-profile spokesperson for African Americans' rights, is offended enough to call for Imus to be fired rather than suspended from his CBS and MSNBC positions, where he's enjoyed a national audience.

But where is Sharpton on the proliferation of rap music lyrics that refer to women as bitches and hos and that glorify rape? He's on record as opposing violence in rap. Is he not as offended by that grotesque misogyny? Shouldn't he be, and shouldn't he be calling for an end to its godawful redundancy in the public purview?

OK, give credit to Sharpton for campaigning against racism. Imus has no excuse. He's fighting for nothing now but his own ego, and his demeanor since his indiscretion shows how badly that part of his character has been damaged. Self-destruction is not to be pitied in this case, but censured. He ought to retire now to save himself the further pillory he's brought upon himself.

There was once a time, when Imus was younger, that an off-color chance remark might be reviled by listeners, even fined by the FCC, then lost in the cosmos. But today it is immediately disseminated worldwide to millions of people on the Internet, and it draws comment on thousands of weblogs. It is out there. And so is he.

When Imus goes on to his great reward, a part of that reward will be an obituary that mentions, in the second paragraph, what he said about those Rutgers girls. Bet on that. He won't live it down, and he won't die it down either.