WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Tuesday afternoon conferred the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on former University of Tennessee women’s basketball Coach Pat Summitt.
Obama hailed the 38-year veteran coach for achieving “more wins than any other coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA.”
“More importantly, every player who ever played for Coach Summitt either graduated or is on her way to graduating,” Obama added.
Neither Summitt nor the others awarded the medal in Tuesday’s White House ceremony addressed the inviting guests and none was available for interviews afterward.
The official citation of Summitt’s award reads as follows:
“In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball. She has received numerous awards, including being named Naismith Women’s Collegiate Coach of the Century. Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer's. The Pat Summitt Foundation will make grants to nonprofits to provide education and awareness, support to patients and families, and research to prevent, cure and ultimately eradicate early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.”
Obama also presented Medals to singer Bob Dylan, the prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former astronaut and Senator John Glenn and other honorees.
The president bestowed the award posthumously on Jan Karski, the Polish Underground operative who carried early news of the Holocaust from Nazi occupied Poland to Allied leaders in 1942.
Gasps arose from the Polish press contingent when Obama referred to one of Karski’s wartime exploits as a visit to a “Polish death camp.”
Poles and Polish-Americans have long objected to that phrase, feeling that it unfairly suggests Polish complicity in the genocide carried out by the Nazis on Polish territory.