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Pat Summitt releases statement clarifying affidavit

Pat Summitt has released a statement in which she says she was not forced out as the Lady Vol head basketball coach. The statement comes in reaction to the outrage left in the wake of her recent affidavit which was attached to an amended lawsuit filed last Wednesday by former University of Tennessee employee Debby Jennings. Jennings lost her longtime job in media relations when she was forced to resign by athletic director Dave Hart in May.

The portion of Summitt’s affidavit which sparked the outrage described a meeting that Summitt had with Hart on March 14. In the meeting, Summitt believed Hart had told her she would not return the following season in her capacity as head coach, a message she categorized as “very surprising…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.”

Summitt’s affidavit states that she told a handful of people about the meeting, including Debby Jennings. The affidavit also says that, unbeknownst to Jennings, Hart informed the legendary coach at a later date that she’d “misinterpreted” what he’d said.

With her affidavit Summitt was attempting to provide context to a claim made in the original lawsuit Debby Jennings filed against the university and Dave Hart on September 27. In it, Jennings described the March 14 meeting between Summitt and Hart which effectively suggested that it was not Summitt’s decision to step down, but rather Hart’s. UT spokesperson Margie Nicols categorized Jennings’ claim as “absolutely not true,” adding “It was Pat’s idea to become the Head Coach Emeritus. I think she made that really clear at her press conference earlier this year.”

So by issuing the affidavit, Summitt was essentially saying that Jennings hadn’t lied, but had told the truth as she knew it, in light of the fact she was not privy to the subsequent conversation in which Hart told Summitt she’d misinterpreted him.

The world will be quick to draw lines in the sand which is why the outrage began in the first place, as various news entities focused entirely on Summitt’s initial interpretation of the meeting, downplaying (if not skipping altogether) the subsequent conversation between Summitt and Hart.

Which is exactly why Pat’s setting the record straight. An excerpt from her statement:

It was entirely my decision to step down from my position as the Head Coach of women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee…As I stated in my press conference in April when I announced my decision, I loved being the Head Coach for 38 years, but, after consultation with my son, my doctors, my lawyer, and several close friends, I concluded that the time had come to move into a new role.

I did not then, and I do not now, feel that I was “forced out” by the university…If my affidavit has caused confusion on that point, it needs to be dispelled. In connection with my move from Head Coach to Head Coach Emeritus, the university has treated me with the utmost respect and graciousness, as it always has throughout my tenure as head coach.

(To read her entire statement, click HERE.)

Based on those words, I’m certain the media (both national and local) will be quick to say “Ah. Okay. Everything’s fine.” But it’s not.

It’s a complicated situation. And even if you were to read all of the documents (as I have), you’d still have a hard time deciphering what, exactly, it all means. The truth is funny like that. It’s seldom black or white. Instead, most often, gray.

My thoughts:

There’s no question that Summitt loves the University of Tennessee as much as anyone ever has. And I take her at her word and completely believe that she doesn’t feel as if she was forced out.

But I still don’t believe that Summitt’s 100% cool with recent happenings within the athletic department. For example, it’s clear from her affidavit that she wasn’t good with Hart forcing Jennings out:

(Jennings) was a trusted employee after working side-by-side for 35 years. During her employment Debby Jennings was a strong advocate for the University of Tennessee’s women’s athletic department…She was instrumental in helping to develop the Lady Vol brand into the positive national symbol of excellence in intercollegiate athletics that it has become…Prior to Debby Jennings’ termination, I was not consulted by Dave Hart…But had I been consulted, I would have requested that he reconsider termination, and try another alternative, such as disciplinary action, if he felt that was necessary.

It’s also clear from that same affidavit that Summitt has had problems with Hart:

On February 15, 2012, I had a meeting with Dave Hart. I requested the meeting to talk to Dave Hart because I heard he wanted to discontinue using the Lady Vol logo. In that meeting, he told me he intended to place all UT women’s and men’s athletic teams under the “power T” so they would be “all Volunteers.” I was angered when he came out in an interview with the media in May 2012 and denied that he ever intended to do away with the Lady Vol logo.

So I still contend, as I did in my original post, that the leadership at the university has botched this whole thing and in so doing, has left Coach Summitt in an unenviable spot. I still wonder how it could possibly be that Pat Summitt and Dave Hart walked away from their March 14 meeting with such drastically different interpretations of what was said. I’d still like to know what the real message was that Hart was trying to convey that day.

And I’m still disappointed that the folks in charge have let this situation get so far out of hand that our beloved coach is having to simultaneously defend her friend and the university she loves so dearly.

So to all of you who want to read Summitt’s statement and pretend that everything’s okay, have at it.

But I’m not with you. Because it’s not.

links:
Pat Summitt’s entire affidavit
Debbie Jennings’ amended lawsuit
Pat Summitt’s statement

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