Friday, February 06, 2009

Caring to compare

She did it. Pat Summitt got her 1,000 career victory last night.
There was a lot of hype as the numbers of wins starting creeping toward 1,000. It was/is good for women's basketball--all the attention. ESPN was on high alert.
Unfortunately some people thought that comparing Summitt to male coaches of men's teams wasn't quite fair. (You know I was in a good mood until I read this piece--now I am testy again.)
Because this local sports writer feels that it's just not right that Summitt be deemed the best ever over other coaches--other coaches who happen to be men:
What irks me is ESPN is giving me the impression that Summitt is the best college basketball coach of all-time because her victory total is greater than John Wooden, Dean Smith and Bobby Knight — reinforcing it by having Knight sit next to Summitt and telling her how great she is.
ESPN is doing this on purpose to get people like me riled and create controversy, therefore creating better ratings for women's basketball since women's hoops is not always a ratings bonanza. This is wrong, because it is not fair to compare Summitt to men's basketball coaches.

Yes, it's a big conspiracy to play on the insecurities of men like you.
The actual controversy in bringing in Bobby Knight is comparing a good coach like Summitt--not in terms of wins, but leadership--to a coach with, let's call them, questionable tactics. Writes Mechelle Voepel:
Oh, great. They’re bringing in - to broadcast what could be a historic win in women’s hoops - a former coach who once put a tampon in one of his player’s lockers in an attempt to shame him into playing better.”
Because, of course, what could more clearly convey “you’re weak and pathetic” to a man than suggesting he’s like a woman? What could possibly be more humiliating than to be a woman, right?

In the end, I don't know if Pat Summitt is the best coach evah (as we like to say in MA). What are we judging by? Well the standards keep changing. People who say she is not are often people who like to tally the number of wins and equate that with being the best. Yet, they won't apply that standard to Summitt for a myriad of reasons such as her age (22) when she started coaching. The implication there that becoming a coach of women's basketball when she did was easier, less competitive. Maybe, but it was also harder because there was very little institutional support.
Best ever is always going to be a matter of opinion and of values. I don't think Bobby Knight should ever be deemed best ever because, well he's a jerk (that's my euphemism for the day) and personality and leadership style counts. Make a rubric, make a standard. It will always be up for debate.
Too bad Pat Summitt's achievement is being marred by yucky comparisons and pettiness.

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