By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – In the 1972 movie The Godfather, one of the greatest films of all time, there is a scene where two men are discussing a past crime. While trying to describe what happened, Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall) motions to Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan) and says, “This is business. It’s not personal”. Hagen’s statement was simple, that the “business” would continue on, despite what happened to any one person that was involved, no matter the size of their influence.
Fast forward to 1991, when the film New Jack City premiered, exposing the world to the culture of inner city life. While featuring a cast of characters similar to the Godfather’s, the story’s settings couldn’t be more different.
Yet, in the movie’s climax, we are reminded of 20 years earlier. When the police officer (played by Ice-T) finally gets his hands on the criminal (Wesley Snipes) that he’s been tracking down during the whole movie, he utters a familiar phrase.
A fight ensues, with Ice-T’s character flipping the script on the well known verse from Mario Puzo’s classic. “This ain’t business,” he said, “this is personal”.
What does an Oscar classic and Ice-T have to do with Pat Summitt? Their phrases embody the complex emotions involved on a fateful Tuesday, when the legendary coach told the world she was diagnosed with early dementia.
The news was devastating. A coach, so revered by the landscape she helped mold, was now facing a life altering condition. Pat Summitt, the architect of the greatest program in woman’s basketball history, now had to begin the fight for her life.
The immediate feeling is personal.
Pat Summitt doesn’t know me. I’ve watched her coach for years, even interviewed her on occasion. Despite that, today’s news is personal to me and many others like me, who admired her work from afar and appreciated the mark she has left on collegiate athletics.
You know the numbers. Summitt has captured eight national championships, picked up over 1000 wins, and has countless pieces of title hardware that span an illustrious 37-year career. In my opinion, there is no single person who has done more for or embodies the spirit of women’s athletics than Pat Summitt. Universally liked, she created a landmark program in her image, with a blue-collar approach that rewards loyalty and integrity.
What makes her special is more than the accolades, it is the connection she has made with a following of fans that shower her with praise at every opportunity. Summitt’s approach is personal, and that core belief has given her a status this is likely to never be matched by another single coach. I mean, I’ve been to countless games in this conference, both on the men’s and women’s side. There is only one coach that is guaranteed a standing ovation every time that she walks on the floor. That coach is Pat Summitt.
That is as Ice-T put it, personal, and more than the business of coaching a basketball team. That sentiment was seen all day, with people from all walks of life sending well wishes and heartfelt messages through various mediums to not only Summitt, but the Lady Vol program. The Twitter response was incredible, with colleagues, followers and strangers all contributing cautious hopes and inspiring scriptures.
But, as Tom Hagen told the young Corleone, this is business too.
Pat Summitt herself knows this all too well. She announced her diagnosis in a video on Tennessee’s website, alerting alumni and fans not only of her condition, but the next steps ahead for her beloved program. She knew, as we do, that despite the outcry of condolences that have appeared since the announcement, the sports world continues moving forward.
Days, weeks and even months after this tragic day are in our rear view mirror, the talk with turn to the Lady Vols in uniform. Even though Summitt’s name is signed on the court Tennessee will play on this season, the program will have no choice but to move forward despite today’s news. Her capable assistants, whom she mentioned in the two minute long video, will take over a bigger part of the reigns as Summitt fights against the toughest opponent she’s ever seen.
After you stop for a minute to get past the shock of Summitt’s condition, what are the first thoughts that pop to mind? What happens to Tennessee Lady Vol basketball? Who will the next head coach be? Can that coach possibly fill the shoes of a Hall of Famer?
It is natural to wonder, because when we see greatness and its effects, this first notion is to question whether we will ever see it again. Make no mistake, Summit and the Lady Vols are greatness. They are synonymous with each other. I can’t imagine what it will be like the first time I see one without the other. Unfortunately, that day will come sooner than a lot of fans and supporters might have hoped.
Heroes and legends, no matter how much you adore them, are people. They face real life issues, and have day-to-day struggles just like anyone else. Any family must deal with adversity, and learn to find strength in moments where optimism seems nonexistent.
That’s where the Lady Vol family finds themselves today; trying to make sense of the stunning news their longtime leader has just received. The personal side of them is in shatters, feeling the devastation of a loved one entering a crisis. The business side wonders about Tennessee’s future, what will happen when the time comes that Summitt no longer stands on the sideline.
Today was many things for many people. Emotion was everywhere to be found. It was personal, but it was also business.