Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is officially hanging it up. The seven-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time league MVP, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, six-time All-Pro, 15X Pro Bowler, and Greatest Quarterback Of All Time officially announced the end of his 22-year playing career.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) February 1, 2022
Tributes from fans, media, fellow football players and athletes across all sports are pouring in.
FS1 host Shannon Sharpe shed a tear when the breaking news was announced.
Everyone wants the opportunity to honor the legend. If that’s what you want, do so until your heart’s content.
The best QB of all time retired, DANG… he threw his last TD on me 😂
— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) February 1, 2022
But the praise stops there. He is the greatest quarterback of all-time. It’s debatable if he’s the greatest football player of all-time. But for the sake of this discussion, he can have that title too. However, he is not the greatest athlete of all-time. Point blank. Period.
Let’s start with some basics. In American football, players only play on one side of the ball. As a quarterback Brady is only on the field when he’s team is possessing the football. When his team doesn’t have the ball, he’s resting on the sidelines.
Professional boxers, combat sport fighters, basketball, soccer, hockey and tennis players don’t get to rest on defense. They have to do both. That matters. Sorry, not sorry.
There is also the idea of American exceptionalism. That as a nation we are so unique, our values and way of life so distinct, we matter more and should play an outsized role on the world’s stage. This is especially true as it relates to our sports.
But here’s the thing. Nobody outside of the U.S. cares about American football. At least not with any scale. The most popular sports in the world by far are soccer and basketball.
In the U.S. the NFL is king. It is demonstrated by the weekly television ratings, the gambling numbers, etc. But that’s in one country with a population of a little less than 334 million people.
For reference, the rest of the world’s remaining population is roughly 7.6 billion people.
Just looking at the math, the numbers don’t quite work. A sport that is only played by a fraction of the world’s population produced the best athlete? That’s highly unlikely.
Now that’s not to say Brady isn’t among the great sportsman and winners of all time. The awards, titles, records and accolades support that. But that’s one piece of the overall measurement.
An athlete is defined as a person that is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. We measure athleticism in terms of speed, physical endurance, strength, agility, lateral quickness, the list goes on.
Brady is clearly proficient at being an NFL quarterback. He’s the best. But does he grade out at the top of any of these measurement categories in his own sport? Forget about adding in all the athletes in the other sports.
Does winning matter more than anything else? If so, how does one man or woman in a team sport get sole credit for a team accomplishment, like a championship?
We say Tom Brady won seven Super Bowls. Did he accomplish that all by himself?
Rafael Nadal just won a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open. There are no teammates in tennis. He won those matches on court by himself, in a sport that requires more of the elements we use to measure athleticism than playing NFL quarterback.
Floyd Mayweather was a 50-0 as a professional boxer. He won titles among multiple weight classes. Like Nadal, he doesn’t get to rest on defense either. He has to turn defense into offense constantly and also has no teammates to rely on. Boxing certainly takes a ton of athleticism, and to excel in different weight classes and finish undefeated?
In terms of pure athleticism, where does the world’s fastest man or woman rank? Track and field has more global participants than American football. Usain Bolt is the world record holder in the 100 and 200 meter distances. From 2008-16 Bolt never lost a race in major competition in either distance.
Those are just a few examples, and we can go on.
To be clear, this isn’t about denigrating or downplaying what Brady has accomplished. It’s about proper context and what we are actually measuring.
We aren’t talking about lists of the greatest winners in team sports. Of course Brady is at or near the top of that list. Is he ahead of or behind basketball legend Bill Russell?
If you are truly asking who are the 10, 15, 20 or 25 greatest athletes of all time, that requires a lot more nuance, perspective and parsing out of athleticism and accomplishments.
On that list Brady doesn’t quite measure up.
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