As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady retired again
and for good (we’ll see). Into the
sunset, he rides with two more rings than any other NFL player, three more than
fellow quarterback Joe Montana and four more than the incomparable Jerry
Rice. Four-time NBA champion, four-time
MVP and 19-time All Star LeBron James hit a step-back jumper last week to pass six-time
NBA champion, six-time MVP and 19-time All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the
league’s all-time leading scorer.
Stanley Cup champion, three-time Hart Trophy winner (MVP), nine-time
Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy winner (top goal scorer) and 12-time All Star
Alexander Ovechkin, with 812 goals as of this writing, sits just 82 goals short
of four-time Cup champion, 9-time Hart Trophy winner and 15-time All Star Wayne
Gretzky’s all-time mark of 894. The
Great Eight has The Great One in his sights.
All of this has GOAT debates raging. Which is good press for the underappreciated
goat and hikers who have braved the perilous Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac
River. But it’s even better for sports
fans. What has fueled arguments, generated
interest and connected generations of fans more than good-natured Greatest Of
All Times quarrels? Think of the pints
downed while comparing the merits of transcendent athletes, parents and
children trading barbs about their personal GOATs, Twitter wars and endless articles
written on the topic.
Jordan or LeBron?
Or Kareem. Or Wilt Chamberlain? Babe Ruth or Willie Mays? Hank Aaron or Mickey Mantle? Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams? Diana Taurasi or Tamika Catchings or Cheryl
Miller? Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair? Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner? Wilma Rudolph or Florence Griffith Joyner or
Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Mark Spitz or
Michael Phelps? Muhammad Ali or Joe
Louis or Jack Johnson or Mike Tyson?
Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?
Here's the beauty of those questions: There’s no
definitively right or wrong answer. I
count two indisputable GOATs: Gretzky and Serena Williams. As Tony Kornheiser might say, “That’s it,
that’s the list.” Otherwise, it’s all an
endless flow of statistics, stories, arguments and rebuttals. Revisit the long, comparable scroll of
personal accolades of GOAT contenders in the opening stanza: it serves only
illustrate dizzying individual greatness and the impossible task of reaching a
beyond-a-reasonable-doubt GOAT verdict.
Rules change. How do you value
longevity versus peak performance? Or
championships won? Or being blessed by
surrounding greatness (all team-sport GOAT candidates are)? What about the prevailing social
environment? How much should the
accomplishments of pre-integration white athletes be discounted? How is the racism Abdul-Jabbar endured measured
against the relentless spotlight LeBron has navigated since he was 18? How to avoid recency bias? And how much does the quality of the person
matter? For example, Hank Aaron was, by
all accounts, a classy human. Ty
Cobb? Not so much.
The undeniable subjectivity is the unspoken truth between
GOAT-debaters. I ardently believe Michael
Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. But I know there are reasonable arguments to
be made for James, Abdul-Jabbar (I missed his prime) and Chamberlain (I never saw
him play). Entering these debates with an
open mind, and an acceptance that no absolute exists, allows for something rare
to happen: a respectful exchange between two people sharing a common love, who,
upon observing the same participants, reviewing the same facts and considering
the same parameters, arrive at different conclusions. GOAT debates are, at their most fundamental
level, a matter of perspective.
Now suppose America was the sport – the transcended, shared
love (still safe to assume?). What if
major political issues were the players being debated as the GOATs? What if the parties debating the political
topic, whether elected officials or average citizens, approached the discussion
with an open mind, a respect for the process and a firm acknowledgement that
they are neither completely right nor is their opponent completely wrong. What if the parties respected their
differences in age, experiences, places of origin, race, gender and economic standing. What if they listened to each other, learned
from each other and exited the conversation with greater knowledge, a broader
perspective and deeper love for the game (country) they cherish?