Current Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2013 16:26:06 -0500
When he retired, legendary coach Dean Smith was the winningest coach in college basketball history.
He has received four national Coach of the Year awards, named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But some of his admirers want to add one more honor to his long list — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The White House website allows users to write their own petitions, one of which asks President Obama to award Smith the highest civilian honor in the U.S.
The petition, authored by user “J.L.” from Austin, Texas, says that Smith, 81, should be awarded the medal for his career — with two national championships and one Olympic gold medal, as well as being “a courageous voice for integration and racial equality, at a time when that was neither easy nor safe for a coach at a Southern college to do.”
The petition had received 1,091 signatures as of Wednesday and has a goal of 100,000. It expires Feb. 16.
Steve Kirschner, a spokesman for the athletic department, said he thinks Smith deserves the honor.
“I think any way to honor Coach Smith is warranted and certainly deserves peoples’ attention,” he said. “Not only for what he did as a basketball coach, but what for did for civil rights, what he did for human rights and what he did even after his coaching career.”
Eric Montross, who played for Smith on his second and final national championship team, said he had looked at other sports figures who have received the medal and thought Smith was of the same caliber.
Past Medal of Freedom recipients include legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and Pat Summitt, the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach and the winningest coach in college basketball history.
In 2010, Smith’s family released a letter stating that he suffered from a “progressive neurocognitive disorder” that inhibits his memory.
Montross said Smith would probably want others to receive attention, but that Smith would be appreciative.
“Coach always defers — he’s always been about his players,” he said. “He’s always been about others and that’s shown in his commitment to them.
“If the petition is based on his impact as a humanitarian, as a mentor, and as someone who cares deeply for humanity, I think he would be very appreciative.”
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