Pat Summitt

Talking Pat Summitt: Down South, it matters whether you're Baptist or Methodist

Talking Pat Summitt: Down South, it matters whether you're Baptist or Methodist

If you grew up in the Bible Belt, then there's a good chance that you know the punch line to this old joke.

Question: How do you tell the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist in a Southern town?

Answer: The Methodist will say "Hi" to you at the liquor store, while the Baptist will stay silent.

That joke links up pretty well with another old Southern saying. In the typical Southern town or small city, church ties were supposedly linked to education. If you graduated from high school, you were a Baptist. If you had a college degree, you were a Methodist. If you had a law degree (or a sheepskin from a medical school) you were an Episcopalian.

Why bring all this up in a post linking to our new "Crossroads" podcast about University of Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, the trailblazing czarina who built the Lady Vols hoops empire? Click here to tune that in.

The link is actually pretty complex.

When I wrote my first post about the coverage of Summitt's death, at age 64 -- "The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism" -- I noted that the mainstream press had missed an important passage in the official obituary posted at the Pat Summitt Foundation website, focusing on her faith and her relationship with her son Tyler (an only child, after six miscarriages).

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Taking Pat Summitt's faith seriously: Sally Jenkins on treating the elderly with dignity

Taking Pat Summitt's faith seriously: Sally Jenkins on treating the elderly with dignity

As you would expect, the news coverage of the death of Pat Summitt has faded at the national level. She was a very important person in the world of women's sports, a legend even, but life moves on. Yes, we will get to that amazing first-person piece by columnist Sally Jenkins in a moment.

Here in East Tennessee, the coverage has continued. Here in Lady Vols territory, she was a local institution and, for many, a person who lived near someone they knew, or they bumped into her at a grocery store, met her at a sports event at a local school or, yes, they knew her from church.

Last week, I wrote a GetReligion piece in which I argued that it was strange for the mainstream press to have ignored the role that Christian faith played in this strong woman's life. This was especially true in light of a reference, in the official obituary posted online by the Pat Summitt Foundation, to the fact that she was baptized, with her son Tyler, in a ceremony of some kind of 2012. This was a year after her Mayo Clinic diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease and a few weeks after she stepped down as coach of the Lady Vols basketball team.

I immediately began hearing from lots of people that there was much more to that story than one event in 2012. Actually, you could catch a hint of that in the language used in that official obituary.

She was most proud of one special moment they shared that outshines all the others. On May 5, 2012, Pat and Tyler were baptized together. On this day, they decided together to go public with their faith and professed their love for and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. On this day, they created the ultimate and eternal memory, together.

The point of my earlier post was not that this baptism was a story in and of itself, but that this event was part of a larger picture.

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The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

During the 20-plus years that I taught a basic journalism class, I asked my students what I thought was a simple question during my lecture on strategies in beat reporting, including sports. The goal was to get them to think about the impact of one of the high commandments of the news business: All news is local.

In other words, you don't just cover news stories. You strive to cover stories with unique hooks into the lives and interests of your own, local readers. Thus, I would ask: If you were a reporter who wanted to specialize in covering women's basketball, where would you rather work -- Atlanta (or some other big market) or Knoxville, Tenn.?

For decades the answer was obvious. You needed to work in Knoxville, because of two words -- Pat Summitt.

As you would imagine, the media here in East Tennessee have been offering wall-to-wall coverage in the wake of the Tuesday morning death of the 64-year-old Summitt, who many consider the greatest basketball coach of all time, male or female. At the very least, the czarina of the Lady Vols was to the women's game what the great John Wooden of UCLA was to men's college hoops. Truth is, Summitt changed the whole world of women's sports.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Summitt and the challenges of her amazing life. Then a saw the tribute story at Baptist Press. Yes, Baptist Press.

It included a timely detail from her life that I had not seen in the local and national coverage. It's especially stunning that this detail -- yes, it's a religion ghost -- was not included in Knoxville coverage.

All news is local, you know, and just a few years ago Knoxville was named No. 1 in a poll of "Bible-minded cities" in the United States (and it's currently No. 11).

The key passage, starting with a quote just before she died:

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