A common topic of debate among sports fans is simply “who is the greatest of all time?” It’s an argument that’s been had in bars and in the stands, on road trips and in locker rooms. Often these debates only bring up male athletes from the major sports. Michael Jordan in basketball, Tom Brady in football, and Wayne Grezky in hockey all get brought up and have their merits debated. Everyone wants to decide who is the G.O.A.T.?
Missing from these debates are often female athletes. Despite having many phenomenal athletes, women’s sports continually are overlooked in terms of media attention and support. This was clearly exhibited by the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournaments in March. There was a massive discrepancy between the quality of the gyms, which was only corrected after some of the female athletes and supporters voiced their displeasure on Twitter. The gyms were a fraction of the size of the men’s gyms with limited equipment. Even the quality of the swag given to participants and the meals provided by catering were better for the men’s participants.
What is the criteria to be the G.O.A.T.? Most would say a long stretch of dominance in their sport, a presence that forced changes to their games, or being a better winner than anyone else. Athletes in the conversation should also transcend sports, becoming an icon and role model for those who look up to them. There are plenty of male athletes who fit the bill, but there are also many female athletes who do as well. They just simply don’t get the recognition.
It’s time that more respect is given to the female athletes to include them in these debates. Here are three female athletes to add to the conversation the next time the debate comes up:
Lisa Leslie, Basketball
The WNBA, rightfully, has been getting more attention in the past few years. This is due to having amazing basketball talent, their work with progressive causes, and increased budget and space being given to the Women’s National Basketball Association’s press coverage. It is great that more fans will be exposed to the current greats in the WNBA, but they should also learn about maybe the best WNBA player of all time: Lisa Leslie.
Entering the league in the inaugural 1997 WNBA Draft, the former USC product would be a star for the Los Angeles Sparks for all 12 of her seasons. Leslie would win three Most Valuable Player awards, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and lead Los Angeles to two WNBA Championships. On the international stage, Leslie represented the United States at the Olympics four times. What did she come away with in those four appearances? Four gold medals.
Leslie is a Basketball Hall of Fame member, being elected in 2015. At the time of her retirement, Leslie held the WNBA record for points and rebounds. As the first force in WNBA history, Leslie deserves to be in the conversation of Greatest of All Time.
Serena Williams, Tennis
There may be no greater winner in the sport of tennis than Serena Williams. Her career winnings on the Women’s Tennis Association surpass $90 million USD, which is $50 million more than the next closest person ever – her sister Venus. Serena has the record for most WTA titles with 23. She has the most singles, doubles, and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles of any active player.
Serena has the most match wins of any female tennis player with 362 and has four Olympic gold medals. In 2017, Serena became the oldest player to reach the #1 ranking, cementing her legacy and proving her longevity. On top of being one of the most dominant athletes of all time, Serena has been active in supporting Black Lives Matter and calling out gender inequality in sports. For her work on the court and for using her voice, Serena Williams clearly belongs in the debate as the GOAT.
Still active today, Brazi’s Marta may have one of the most impressive legacies in football. The competition for GOAT in football is competitive to say the least. Others may argue for England’s Kelly Smith, Canada’s Christine Sinclair, or China’s Sun Wen. For me there is no player more dominant over a long stretch than Marta.
Marta has collected six FIFA World Player of the Year awards, more than any other player in history. From 2004-2014, she never finished outside of the top three in voting. Marta also has the record for goals in World Cup play with 17, more than any other competitor male or female. While she has never led Brazil to a World cup win, her consistent excellence on the field made her a legend. She sits eighth in all-time international goals with 109, and is still excelling on the field. When talking about the best footballers of all time, add Marta in with names like Pele, Messi & Ronaldo.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
The youngest of these three may have the best case as the greatest athlete of all time. Simone Biles is only 24 years old and has smashed records for gymnastics. Whenever the next Summer Olympics occurs, Biles has a chance to be the greatest gymnast ever. Period.
Biles already has the record for most gold medals and most medals total at World Championships with 19 golds and 25 medals total. She has more world gold medals than any gymnast, male or female, with much of her career yet to come. Gymnastics hasn’t seen a dominant force in… well, ever. Biles hasn’t lost an all-around competition at a World Championship since 2013, meaning she’s undefeated ever since Orange is the New Black has been in existence.
Biles is expected to medal when the Tokyo Olympics take place, which will only add to her string of dominance. On top of her winning every medal she can, Biles has used her platform to call out racism, sexism, and sexual harassment. She was part of the group of survivors who helped bring former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to justice and have him convicted of sexual assault. Between smashing records and trying to create a better world for the next generation of gymnasts, Simone Biles is one of the most important athletes we’ve ever seen.
The bar room debate about sports greats will likely never die. It is a constant discussion for sports fans, and it is definitely fun to keep up the debate. Keep discussing if Lebron has passed Jordan, or if there is a better golfer than Tiger Woods in his prime; but it is also important to include women’s athletes in your discussion for GOAT. Just because sports media hasn’t shone the spotlight on them as much as they should, doesn’t mean they haven’t been compiling the greatest careers of all time. The misogyny of the media doesn’t devalue the accomplishments of these tremendous athletes. Remember these names next time a debate pops up over a pint.