WASHINGTON, D.C. – Former UNC men’s basketball coach Dean Smith ceremoniously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday morning.
“Dean Smith is one of the winningest coaches in basketball history,” President Barak Obama said. “But his successes go far beyond Xs and Os. Even as he won 78 percent of his games, he graduated 96 percent of his players.”
***Listen to the Ceremony***
President Obama said Smith was a courageous man on the sideline and outside of the gym.
“He recruited the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill,” President Obama said. “That’s the kind of character that he represented on and off the court.”
Fifteen other men and women were honored at the White House for the 50th Anniversary of the Medal of Freedom.
President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order in 1963. Since then, more than 500 people have received the highest civilian honor.
“We salute fierce competitors who became true champions,” President Obama said.
Some of the others that were honored include baseball player, Ernie Banks, former president, Bill Clinton, the youngest American and first American woman in space, the late Sally Ride, and media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.
On the court, Smith won two national championships and when he retired, he was the winningest coach in college basketball history. But it is the humble man’s work away from the sport that truly set him apart and deems Smith worthy of the United States’ highest civilian honor.
Taking a stand in a time period when many high-profile figures sat on the sidelines, Smith used his position to advocate for civil rights. In fact, Smith recruited UNC’s first black scholarship athlete and helped in Chapel Hill’s desegregation process in the 1960’s.
Many of his players called Smith a “second father” and his leadership of these young men led to an impressive 96 percent graduation rate.