How do you measure positive “impact” on the world and other people? Three stories to consider …
This particular interview with Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was eight years ago, not very long after 9-11. We were talking about various things, and at some point I asked her how difficult it was for her – as it is for many of us – to see the horrifically difficult lives of women in places such as Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
I remember the tone of her voice changing, the edge to it, the way the question affected her. How obvious it was that just the thought of such things made her furious. And made her all the more determined to do whatever she could to help women and girls everywhere.
In the two terrific books that Summitt wrote with Sally Jenkins, she detailed the frustrations she felt growing up a farm girl in the 1950s and ’60s. Such as how she had to fill her brothers’ drink glasses and serve them food at meals even though she did the same outdoors work they did.
In comparison, the plight of women in so many places still today in the world is drastically more grievous than anything Summitt experienced … and yet it’s all from the same root: the belief that females are of less value than males and are supposed to accept living, at least in some degree, in subjugation.
But one of the most painful parts of this is how much of it has been perpetuated by women themselves. Also, how when women have the chance to help each other, they don’t always do it.
I bring this up because it’s Hall of Fame weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., and there is a group of Iraqi girls visiting the city and attending Summitt’s basketball camp. Their trip was sponsored by Sport 4 Peace/Global Sports Partners and SportsUnited, the international sports programming initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The above link goes to Tennessee’s web site and includes links to Sport 4 Peace and ways you can get involved and help with their mission to “improve the quality and availability of sporting opportunities for girls and women around the world.”
It’s impossible to overstate how important a cause this is, and it’s notable that once again, the University of Tennessee is at the forefront of such an initiative. These 12 girls are experiencing things they never otherwise could have, and they’ll take back with them an elevated sense of self-esteem, a belief in their own abilities and value, and memories of the kindness of people in the United States.
And there’s more: As it did last year, Sport 4 Peace is conducting a girls basketball camp in Iraq later this summer. Check out its web site and look under “upcoming projects” for items you could donate or other ways to help with this endeavor.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, the inductees this year are Jennifer Azzi, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Jennifer Gillom, Sonja Hogg, Jill Hutchinson and Ora Washington.
If you are reading this blog, it’s safe to say you know about Azzi, Cooper-Dyke and Gillom. Depending on your age, you may be less familiar with Hogg and Hutchinson, both coaches whose careers began in the “college pioneer decade” of the 1970s.
But the woman least-known of this group is Washington, who passed away at age 73 in 1971, a year before Title IX was signed into law. Born in 1898, she was a Philadelphia-area legend as much for tennis as for basketball.
In hoops, she played for various teams, made up of African-American women, that barnstormed throughout the country in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Sometimes she also played on men’s teams, too.
The sport of tennis, in those days, allowed a woman a greater chance for widespread athletic fame, since it was given media coverage in a way basketball wasn’t. However, not if you were an African-American woman. Segregation prevented Washington from proving on court in the Grand Slam events that she was the best women’s tennis player in the world. No African-American player was allowed to play in one of those tournaments until Althea Gibson in the 1950 U.S. Championships.
If there’s any consolation in regard to the denied opportunities of women such as Washington, it’s this: The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame honor ensures that people will continue to come across her name, wonder who she was, do an Internet search … and feel that anger about how she and so many others were treated.
It’s purposeful anger that can be channeled in a positive way into the issues with racial and gender inequality we still face.
(And, incidentally, speaking of difference-makers … one thing that spurred the decision to invite Althea Gibson to the U.S. Championships was an editorial for a tennis magazine written by past U.S. and Wimbledon champ Alice Marble. She wrote in July 1950 that if tennis didn’t end its racial barrier then “there is an ineradicable mark against a game to which I have devoted most of my life, and I would be bitterly ashamed.”)
Former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick, 69, died Friday after injuries suffered in a bicycle accident Thursday in Lawrence, Kan. An avid cyclist, he stressed safety and was wearing a helmet.
Two decades ago, Frederick made his most famous and successful decision as an administrator: bringing “unknown” Roy Williams to coach KU’s men’s basketball team when Williams was a North Carolina assistant. Frederick’s most painful decision at KU was to cut men’s swimming and men’s tennis, in 2001, to try to make ends meet in the athletic department.
Frederick had come to KU as an undergrad in 1958. He played basketball for the school and later was an assistant coach there.
He also coached high school and juco basketball in the state of Kansas, served as a golf coach at KU, was an assistant hoops coach at BYU and Stanford, taught chemistry and coached basketball at Lawrence High while working on his doctorate, moved into athletic administration and eventually ran the athletic department at KU for 14 years.
All of his experiences before becoming an AD contributed to his genuine concern for the experiences of student-athletes. Many will say, in tribute to him, that he was too kind and decent a man to deal with the tawdry business that has enveloped the revenue sports (football, men’s hoops) in college athletics.
But what I’ve been thinking about most in regard to his career since hearing the terrible news of his death was how he did care about women’s sports. And I give him a lot of credit for that, especially when you consider his age and life circumstances.
When he came to Kansas as student in the 1950s, women’s collegiate sports as we now know them didn’t exist. He grew into adulthood in a time when much of what women did athletically was neither valued nor chronicled. He became a powerful figure in the world of college men’s basketball. He had four sons, but no daughters.
All of these things could have created in him a sort of patronizing indifference to women’s sports. There was often not a lot in the experiences of men his age – at least not for the first 30 (or even 40) years of their lives – that would have compelled them to recognize the value and importance of women’s sports. That’s not really their “fault.” It just reflects the changes in our culture. Consider that Frederick was already in his 40s when the NCAA took over administration of women’s athletics in 1981.
But Frederick was, to his core, an empathetic and deeply principled person, and that was reflected in his attitude toward women’s sports. He had to make hard decisions that not everyone agreed with, but you never doubted he was always trying to do the right thing for everybody – which is usually impossible to do.
He was an educator and a devout believer in adults having a responsibility to be stewards for young people. He really, truly cared about others. There isn’t anything better you can say about someone.