There's no doubt it's hard to follow in the footsteps of a strong, powerful woman like former Vols women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. But what her son, Tyler, has done to defile the family name is a devastating blow to a pioneer's legacy — one she no longer has the ability to defend.
Tyler, 25, resigned from his head coaching post at Louisiana Tech on Thursday, citing an "inappropriate relationship." We now have a better grasp of the scope of this relationship: Summitt, who is married, reportedly impregnated one of his players.
His decision to have a sexual relationship with a player he coached is, at best, a reprehensible decision. At its worst, it's a decision that encourages the culture of a program in which there was abuse of the player/coach power structure and the male/female workplace dynamic.
Certainly, it would be an easy argument to attribute his egregious misstep to the fact that Tyler was inexperienced and too close in age to the players he coached. But when you're the son of one of the most important trailblazers in the history of women's sports, you don't get a pass for your misdeeds, especially when they're irreconcilable in the context of the culture your mother worked tirelessly to create.
Pat is a coaching legend. In 2009, Sporting News released a list of the 50 all-time greatest coaches in sports — Summitt, ranked 11th, was the only woman to make the list. She was the first NCAA coach in men or women's basketball to reach 1,000 career wins and remains one of only four to reach that milestone. In her 38-year coaching career, she led the Lady Vols to eight national titles, instilling an irrevocable sense of pride in what was once considered to be a sexist team nickname.
Summitt was also a Title IX champion, a woman who empowered other women to seek equality in sports. In a 2012 interview, Summit told ESPN she was "proud of what's happened" in women's sports.
"I do take a lot of pride in seeing the success of other conferences, as well as what's happening right here on this campus," Summit said. "And just seeing women's sports with a level of appreciation and awareness and coverage that we've never enjoyed before. So yeah, when I think about that, have we finally arrived? I hope so."
And now, at a time when her son has seemingly done all he could to dismantle the part of her coaching legacy that resonates most, she cannot even defend herself or reprimand him. Summitt has been battling early onset dementia since her resignation in 2012, and a close co-worker of hers told CBS Sports in March that the weight of her diagnosis has "really begun to sink in."
“I'm not sure that she knows who I am unless I tell her,” said Mickey Dearstone, the longtime voice of the Lady Vols.
It's hard to decipher what the most shameful part of this scandal is, because there's so much to unpack.
Is it that Tyler's inability to control his urges tarnished years of work his mother put into championing women's rights in sports, however unfair that may seem?
Is it that a female coach was passed over for the nepotism inherent in hiring a 23-year-old because his last name is Summitt? That seems to be a valid point of contention, even more so now. Since Title IX was enacted in 1972, the percentage of women coaching women's sports has fallen from 90 percent to 40 percent, according to a 2015 study.
No, the most shameful part of all of this is that in his 25 years of guidance from his mother, Tyler appears to have absorbed none of the most important lessons she taught. Logic would have it that if there was anyone able to carry on Pat's legacy and teachings — to empower women — it should have been Tyler.
But instead, he chose the opposite. And that's a damn shame.