Friday, December 29, 2023


As published in The County Times (

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. 

Sports evolve.  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? 

What if?   

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