Pat Summitt Felt Forced Out After Alzheimer's Diagnosis

4 years ago

When former Lady Vol's head basketball coach Pat Summitt announced she was stepping down from her post at Tennessee earlier this year, it seemed an obvious decision. She had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and it was understandable that she might want to retire and dedicate more time to her health and family.

The problem is, it's now apparent that she may not have been the one to make that decision. Summitt said in a signed affidavit that she initially felt she was being forced to step down by the university where she'd coached for 38 years.

The signed affidavit was part of a lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee by former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings (who alleges age and sex discrimination). In the affadavit, notarized in August but just coming to light now, Summitt said Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told her at a March meeting prior to the NCAA tournament that she would have to step down at the end of the season. 

Pat Summitt and Lady Vols 2011. Credit Image: © Andrew Shurtleff/

This was very surprising to me and very hurtful, as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my doctors, colleagues and friends and not be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong.

In April, the coach announced her on-court retirement - eight months after revealing her diagnosis. Hart later told Summitt that she had misinterpreted his comments.

Summitt, the all-time winningest major college basketball coach, had 1,098 career wins - the most in NCAA men's or women's basketball history, a record that included eight national championships. She was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor - the Presidential Medal of Freedom and remains part of the Tennessee staff as head coach emeritus.

While Summit has not publicly complained about her departure before, if in fact she was pressured or coerced out of her position because of a health condition, it's a big deal that needs to be addressed.

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