Standing in Your Truth

I haven’t blogged in a while, and to be honest, this blog had to sit on my chest for most of this week before I decided to type out the words.

This week my heart’s been troubled by the Lady Vols. Now, that might seem silly to you, but as someone who “came of age” as a reporter covering the program under Pat Summitt and who is a current season ticket holder, there’s just been a lot on my mind and my heart.

The last few years have been a disappointment. With all the talent in the world, our team has vastly underachieved—and if you’ve seen my tweets and the occasional Facebook post, you know that three years ago, I began to firmly believe it was a coaching issue.

That coaching era has now officially ended, and I will not beat a dead horse.

That’s not the point of this blog anyhow, though it is related.

After Saturday’s disappointing loss and disappointing end to a disappointing season, Evina Westbrook was asked by members of the media in the locker room postgame whether changes were needed. In turn, she was asked what was next, what changes needed to happen, about offcourt issues, and finally, whether she expected Holly Warlick to be the coach next year.

I was taken aback by her responses. But my response to her comments was immediate and steadfast—I stand with Evina Westbrook.

Since a video of the comments was uploaded to social media, you’ve had a bunch of coach apologists, so-called fans who don’t really know what they’re talking about, and even ESPN personalities giving her crap for what she had to say.

But here’s the thing, she spoke her truth. So, maybe, instead of bashing a student-athlete, what we should have been doing was truly and thoughtfully listening to what she had to say—and to the underlying issues behind her words.

I make no bones about this. Over the years, there are only a handful of players who’ve earned a spot in my heart, players who have truly become favorites. I can name them quite easily…Tamika Catchings, Andraya Carter…and Evina Westbrook.

I’m not sure exactly what has endeared her to me, but the moment she stepped on the court in a Lady Vol uniform, she became a fast favorite. She’s a true point guard and floor leader — someone who looks to pass and has exceptional floor vision. This past year, healthier perhaps than her freshman year, she added another dimension, becoming a consistent scorer, helped in great part by developmental work last summer with Rick Barnes.

Anyhow, back to present circumstances—she deserved the right to speak her truth. She deserved none of the aftermath of ridicule, hate and attacks. Can you imagine being a sophomore in college after losing an NCAA tournament game and being stuck in a position where your team wasn’t developed properly and then being asked your thoughts on what’s next?

Even as someone who previously was part of the media, I’m still a little agitated by the line of questioning posed to her in her locker, 30 minutes after an NCAA tournament loss. Perhaps you ask about what’s next. Perhaps you even talk about what may need to change. It’s the last question that I find inappropriate. She should not have been placed in a position where she was commenting on the future of her head coach.

But once she’d been asked, she’s also not responsible for sticking with the company line. I heard on the radio on Monday morning that the players had been coached on what to say if those questions were asked and that Evina’s answer didn’t follow the script. Well, that’s a part of the problem. You shouldn’t be scripting what a student-athlete should say and asking him or her to be dishonest.

She spoke her truth, and I stand behind Evina Westbrook.

Evina and her teammates deserve the opportunity to have a coach who works with them to see their full potential. Who helps them turn a team of All-Americans into more than just potential — truly developing them into what they came to Tennessee to be. I am sincerely hopeful that Evina will chose to stick with Tennessee, because I know I am not alone in standing behind her.

Finally, let me comment on ESPN’s diatribe on the video clip and Evina’s comments. Andy Landers aside, I am particularly astounded that two former student-athletes turned media personalities took it upon themselves to use a national platform to open up a student-athlete for attack. In Maria Taylor’s case, that included a thinly veiled insult that was well beneath her. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

As former female student-athletes, both Maria Taylor and Rebecca Lobo have stepped up the ladder thanks to the contribution of other female student-athletes. When you gain a platform like they have, you should never use it to step on the athletes coming up the ladder. That is exactly what they did, essentially telling a student-athlete to shut up and dribble.

With this all said, it’s a sad thing any time you make a coaching change. But this was one that was drastically needed and it honestly should have taken place at least a year ago. I salute Holly’s contributions to the Lady Vol program as a player and a coach, but I stand firmly behind our athletes, who deserve so much more.

Thank you, Evina, for speaking your truth. I stand with you.

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