In the Long run: Mythical GOATs

Michael Long

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The argument in the sports world that is responsible for the most friendships lost, relationships ended and assault and battery charges is a simple one. Who is the greatest of all time, more commonly known as the GOAT?

For centuries, this topic has been wreaking havoc in the lives of fans across all sports. People can get very defensive and nasty when fighting for who they think the GOAT in a particular sport is, and I know from experience.

I used to fight for Kobe Bryant as the best basketball player to the death. Now I simply say he is my favorite player and pay my respects to the other greats in the game, because I don’t believe it is possible to label one player as the greatest.

Now, there are some obvious exceptions to this. In individual sports, like track and field, swimming or golf, where all players are going against a common opponent, you can easily say one person is the best based on their times or scores.

However, I see this argument occur more often than not in some of the more popular sports like football, basketball, baseball and soccer. One thing all of these sports have in common is that they are TEAM sports. This means that you can’t point to one player as the greatest, because they all have a squad of supporting cast members behind them. This is most prevalent in football.

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are all some of the great quarterbacks from this era that are also all in the conversation for greatest of all time. Aside from having accurate cannons hanging from their shoulders, these quarterbacks have other assets that make them great. An offensive line and receivers. Without an offensive line to protect them long enough to get a good pass off or receivers to run the correct routes and catch their passes, these mighty quarterbacks would be nothing. All 11 guys on the field must do their job in order for a football team to have any type of success, so to pick one of those players and call him the greatest football player does the sport an injustice.

The same principle can be applied to my main man, Kobe. He’s considered one of the greatest players ever largely due to his six championships. In his first three, he had help from the giant known as Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant big men in basketball. It’s hard to say where Kobe would be ranked if he only had three rings. This just further shows how all of these “GOATs” require a strong supporting cast to help get them where they are.

The other reason why I don’t believe in GOATs is because the competition from the past to now has evolved so much. I see this the most in basketball. Players like Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson may have been able to dominate in the 60s and 70s, but the game has intensified since then. In today’s game, I think Wilt the Stilt and The Big O would probably be just average players and not the legends they are known as.  

As sports advance and players’ methods of becoming more athletic and more skilled at their sport move forward, players are moving further and further away from the skill level of some of the older players who are considered GOATs.

I get that one of the highlights of being a sports fan is arguing over who is better than who, but the whole GOAT argument doesn’t hold up. It’s okay to have favorites, but there doesn’t have to be a ranking of the single best players in sports. Instead, we should learn to recognize that there are certain players that dominate their sport for a certain amount of time, or there are a number of greats at that specific role, but to label one single player the GOAT in a sport is, in most cases, ridiculous.

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