The worst thing about the sports GOAT debate is that it’s redefined one of my favorite terms in sports, which is “the goat.”
It used to indicate the counterpoint to the “hero.” It was the catalyst for defeat, the one who wears horns of shame and gnaws on cud while the champions drink champagne. I loved the goat. I miss that goat.
RIP “the goat.” Long live “the GOAT.”
The second-worst thing about the GOAT debate is that it’s apparently now over, at least in the minds of many fans and pundits after Tom Brady won Super Bowl LV (thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense). Some are calling him the greatest athlete in sports, which is frankly an impossibility due to the existence of Serena Williams.
There is a difference between the GOAT of team sports and what Muhammad Ali, Serena, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and others have accomplished in their respective sports. It’s not to say one feat is more impressive than the other. It’s just to note the difference between the singular icon and the focal point of a collective.
Many are instead saying that Brady is the GOAT of team sports, which also doesn’t work, because Wayne Gretzky is the GOAT of team sports, full stop.
Regular readers of this space know that I’m not some huge Great One fan. I think Mario Lemieux is the greatest hockey force ever unleashed on this planet. But if the task is to match Brady stat-for-stat and accolade-for-accolade, then we need Gretzky in this fight.
The great Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated spoke with Gretzky about Brady recently, and asked him point-blank: Would you say he’s the greatest athlete in any team sport?
“Well, listen, what makes sports so great, is we all sit and debate who the greatest teams were or who the greatest player was or who is the best quarterback is or who is the greatest athlete. I don’t know a lot about football, I never played it, but it’d be hard-pressed for somebody to tell me that somebody else was better than he was,” said Gretzky.
Paraphrased translation: ‘Yes, he is the greatest … at football, I guess.’
When you lay out the case, Brady is the football GOAT, but Wayne Gretzky is the GOAT of team sports. Here’s a breakdown of Gretzky vs. Brady.