In the near three weeks since Tom Brady led the Tamba Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory, sports fans around the world have debated on social media about whether Brady is the GOAT — greatest of all time — of the sports world.
People have compared Brady to all-star athletes not only in the NFL, but across all sports, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali.
While these arguments highlight great athletic talents across a variety of sports, they leave out one category: women.
While many female athletes stand a great distance above their competitors, one woman who I feel deserves more recognition among GOATs is U.S. tennis player Serena Williams.
Now 39 years old, just four years younger than Brady, Williams has been the dominant force in the world of women’s tennis for more than 20 years –– and she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Her long list of awards is so extensive it is almost comical. Listing her achievements aloud in the introductions to her Australian Open matches this past week took nearly six minutes, according to The New York Times. Most notably, Serena has 23 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals, and she is tied for the longest time as the No. 1 female tennis player at 186 weeks.
Williams goes above and beyond the limits of even the best athletes. In 2017, she won the Australian Open while pregnant. She has come back to compete in four Grand Slam finals since giving birth, and at almost 40 she is still playing at an incredibly high level of competition. While Williams holds the record for most Grand Slam titles in the open era for both women’s and men’s tennis from 1968 to today, she is only one title away from tying fellow legend Margaret Court for the most titles ever.
Perhaps the most distinctive way in which Serena stands out as a GOAT contender is the way tennis fans are already seeing her legacy unfolding.
Last week, Williams competed in the Australian Open, losing in the semifinals to Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old Japanese player many recognize as the future of tennis. Although Williams did not win the tournament herself, she was still a part of Osaka’s victory, as Osaka has spoken highly of Williams. Indeed, most young athletes know Williams’ name, and she will inspire generations to come as with her strong, confident, outspoken nature –– and her immeasurable talent.
Even though comparing 23 Grand Slam titles to seven Super Bowl rings seems like a straightforward comparison, I find it hard to compare Serena with Brady as GOATs because of the vast differences in their sports. But when we look at the elements of their sports, some distinctions favor Williams.
Tennis is an individual sport, while football is team-oriented; likewise, tennis is played internationally, while competitive professional football is limited to the United States. These differences suggest a more personal and globally competitive way of winning that we cannot account for when assessing Brady’s career.
Serena’s husband, millionaire entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, best settled the GOAT debate with a silent statement. At the Australian Open, he cheered his wife on in the stands, donning a shirt with a picture of Williams on it that said “Greatest Female Athlete” with the “Female” crossed out.
So, how can we really know if Serena is the true GOAT?
While most signs suggest that she is the GOAT, many times Williams is left out of the GOAT conversation because she is a woman. The idea that there must be a separation between the best female and male athletes or that they are not comparable is outdated and false. Female athletes can be included in these arguments, especially when they have similarly long and legendary careers.
Williams has many times expressed admiration for Brady, calling him an inspiration. In many ways, they are kindred spirits: highly respected, highly motivated and nearing the end of their careers, but never satisfied. In my opinion, their shared attitude and hustle are what set them apart from all others, more so than their physical abilities.
Julia Cannamela is a first-year in the College. Women’s Worlds of Sports appears online every other week.