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Archive for February 8, 2021

Feb. 8, 2021 — Comparisons for the sake of comparing

Late yesterday, a pair of legendary American sports figures continued their remarkable seam of form across the athletic universe.

While most folks will be thinking about how Tom Brady, a 43-year-old quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped engineer a seventh Super Bowl win last evening, let’s not forget what happened several hours later on a tennis court half a world away.

For it was in the first round of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the first major of 2021, where Serena Williams, she of the 23 major titles in singles play, who raised her record to 76-1 in the first round of major tournaments with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Laura Siegemund.

The Twitterverse has been trying to put superlatives on both Brady and Williams over the last couple of days or so; even trying to proffer whether one or the other is the greatest American athlete of all time.

Each have their own claims to greatness, as well as weaknesses in their arguments.

Serena Williams plays in a unique environment on the pro tennis tour. She has virtually no help while a tennis match is in progress, except for neutral help from a trainer or on-site doctor. She cannot receive coaching during matches, meaning that she is virtually alone out on the court. Meanwhile, Tom Brady’s greatness is found in the key quarterback-head coach relationships that he formed with Bill Belichick and Bruce Arians.

Tom Brady competes in sport where he can be hit by defenders from the other team at any time. However, his era (post-2000) was one where quarterbacks were heavily protected by rules changes disallowing hits to the head or below the knees. These rules, passed by the NFL Competition Committee, acknowledged that ticket sales, sponsorships, and luxury suite rentals were generated by successful personalities at the quarterback position. In other words, a season ticket for a team which is dependent upon a quarterback with previous injuries (especially concussions) is not worth as much as for a team whose starting quarterback plays all 16 games.

Serena Williams plays in a sport which requires her to travel to many nations in order to play. The four majors are contested on three continents, in four different countries. Too, these majors are played on three different surfaces: hardcourt, clay, and grass. She also is playing in an era in which an entire section of the sport — doubles — has been very much dominated by specialists. Despite this, Williams has won 18 women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles at major tournaments.

Mind you, neither athlete has been perfect in their lives. Three times, Serena Williams defaulted U.S. Open games at match point because of arguments with the chair umpire. In addition, Brady suffered a four-game suspension for ensuring that the footballs designated for his team in a 2015 playoff game were underinflated, making them easier to throw and catch.

But both have had a two-decade record of championship-level success in their respective athletic endeavors, each of which have their own sets of difficulties and barriers to that “elite” level.

They are leading a golden age of sport, along with personalities like Tiger Woods, Jimmie Johnson, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Alex Ovechkin, Roger Federer, and Lewis Hamilton — all of whom are brands which transcend athletics.