Lance Armstrong fought cancer and created Livestrong, Arthur Ashe battled HIV/AIDS and created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of Aids, Jimmy Valvano battled bone cancer and created the V Foundation for Cancer Research, Kay Yow after being diagnosed with breast cancer created the Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. These are the first four sports figures that come to mind when you think of battling illness, and creating research opportunities for a cure. The next lady that steps to the forefront is Pat Summitt.

Pat Summitt has a long tenure in women’s basketball. She has a list of accolades that most people only dream about. She is a hall of famer, a teacher, a coach, a mother, the “winningest” coach in college basketball, a legend, and most of all a fighter. Summitt was diagnosed with dementia in August of this year, and she did the only thing she knew how to do. She released a statement saying, “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.” That short sentence sums it up for one of the greatest coaches in basketball history. She decided she was going to stare it down with her steely blue eyes, and try to kick its ass.

The University of Tennessee did the same thing, and stepped up and said “We Back Pat”. Who knew that those three words would take off and become the campaign that it has. SECJams had the pleasure to talk to the Senior Director of Marketing at the University of Tennessee, Jimmy Delaney. The thirty minutes that we got to spend with Jimmy was priceless, and to understand the magnitude of the “We Back Pat” campaign has had on a national level was unbelievable.  

The “We Back Pat” campaign was a way for the University to unify the fan base on Rocky Top, and a way for the University to create a fundraising opportunity. It started with an orange t-shirt with the simple words “We Back Pat” that was found in the University of Tennessee’s bookstore. The shirt and campaign took off among Tennessee fans. The University saw the demand and added the shirt to their online shop and other retailers. Today the University of Tennessee has sold over 50,000 shirts and has risen over $200,000 dollars for Alzheimer’s research. All proceeds from the University of Tennessee’s “We Back Pat” campaign go to Alzheimer’s Tennessee, which was chosen by Coach Summitt.

The “We Back Pat” campaign turned regional once the Southeastern Conference got on board, and launched the We Back Pat Week, January 15th through the 21st. The SEC wanted to show their support as well for Coach Summitt and everything she has done for the SEC and woman’s basketball. The week kicked off with SEC teams wearing shooting shirts that read “We Back Pat” and the team logo. The SEC also released shirts to their staff and other universities fans that read “I Bleed Red but Wear Purple to Back Pat”. You can currently buy these shirts at the SECStore on SECStore.com.

The “We Back Pat” campaign took off nationally as supporters from across the country voiced their support for the coach. This support came from the fans at the University of Connecticut, which at one time was a traditional rival for the Lady Vols Basketball Team. It also came from celebrities across the country voicing their support and care for the coach. Oprah, Matthew McConaughey, Brain Williams, Robin Roberts, and many more all voiced their support in the form of stories, letters, and phone calls.

With all the controversy Coach Summitt has faced, she never said poor me. She has been determined to turn this into a stepping stone. This is her chance to have a platform to speak on something nobody else has stepped out and done. This is her platform to bring awareness, and help other people battling Alzheimer. I cannot think of a better person in the country to handle a duty this big. Since her diagnosis she has created a foundation “The Pat Summitt Foundation”, and helped others come forward across the country to get help with their disease. She was a pioneer for women’s college basketball, and now is the pioneer for helping people and bringing awareness to Alzheimer’s.

SECJams has put together a slideshow that features a memory or thought on Coach Summitt and the colors we bleed. Hit next to find out what the contributor for your university said about Coach Summitt.