When it comes to the greatest athlete of all time (aka the G.O.A.T.), it has truly become a conversation without a conclusion. But as time passes on, there has been an undeniable conclusion that Black women aren’t included in these conversations nearly enough when you look at their body of work compared to their male counterparts.
The latest example is Simone Biles, the record-setting gymnast who has a resume that rivals the accomplishments of any athlete, male or female. And yet when a social media powerhouse like ESPN depicted what it deemed as the greatest athletes of all-time, Biles was nowhere to be found. They were alerted to their mistake, and an updated posting soon followed that included Biles.
But the disrespect for Biles didn’t end there. On the day she won an unprecedented seventh United States gymnastics title, ESPN’s Instagram page had zero posts—zero posts—on the accomplishment. But they did manage to post about the Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul exhibition boxing match—17 times.
Biles’ status as one of the all-time great athletes should not be questioned, something she is unapologetically quick to point out and do so without saying a word. She’s proud to be the G.O.A.T. of her sport, and makes sure everyone knows this.
And yet even with all her accomplishments and success, the 24-year-old still doesn’t get the acknowledgement and respect someone with such a lengthy track record of success should receive.
Those who argue against her being in the G.O.A.T. conversation, point out how her greatest accomplishments come once every four years with the Olympics. But that should make her G.O.A.T. status even more impressive, because opportunities to not be great and still be successful are few and far between for Olympic-caliber athletes.
One bad day at the job leading up to the Olympics, could result in years of painstaking training, going to waste. A bad week in the NFL regular season for quarterback Tom Brady or a bad game in the NBA for Michael Jordan or LeBron James, becomes a forgotten footnote if they bounce back quickly, which they have done more times than not, with a strong performance.
But the lack of respect as an all-time great for Biles is a familiar one for female athletes, particularly Black women. Serena Williams is regarded as the world’s greatest tennis player ever, and yet like Biles, her name doesn’t come up in the G.O.A.T. conversation nearly enough.
So why does this happen?
Race and gender certainly play a role in how easily these Black women are cast aside in conversations about all-time great status. But part of the slight has to do with the revolutionary manner in which they have gone about dominating their respective sports.
The tennis world has never seen a player like Serena Williams, a perfect blend of power, grace, athleticism and control.
She too brings similar traits to the world of gymnastics that have elevated her to heights no gymnast before her has ever seen. A five-time World All-Around champion, Biles recently won an unprecedented seventh U.S. title. “I feel like every single championship stands out for a different reason, but this one stands out specifically because it’s the road to Tokyo,” Biles told Olympics.com following her latest U.S. Title. “We came out here and we did what we were supposed to.”
But she didn’t just win another title. She dominated the competition not only in terms of her execution, but also in bringing something new to the competition that, at least for now, no other female gymnast will even attempt to replicate. That fear that she strikes in opponents who won’t even try certain routines that she does at a high level, is what separates her from others in the G.O.A.T. conversation.
LeBron James and Michael Jordan are great players, but you won’t find those who compete against them shying away from taking shots that they would take. When soccer great Lionel Messi’s exceptional fake-shots lead to wide open shots on goal, you can bet others will try and emulate what he does. That’s what you’re supposed to do when competing against one of the all-time greats.
But Biles does things that others in her sport, simply won’t even attempt to do in competition. I’m speaking specifically about the Yurchenko double pike vault, a move that is so difficult that the governing bodies of gymnastics have kept the point value for it low as a deterrent for other gymnasts to try for fear they will hurt themselves. It also means that Biles, already the most dominant gymnast around, can’t pull away even more than she already has because of one or two routines she can do that no one else can.
Simone Biles is the first woman in gymnastics history to land the move in competition, a distinction that’s unlikely to change anytime soon with few if any women practicing the move let alone planning an attempt at doing it. And while the scoring for the move remains relatively low considering its difficulty, Biles said she will continue doing it.When asked by reporters why, she quickly responded, “Because I can.”
Despite countless world titles and Olympic gold medals, Biles’ status as the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should. She’s athletic royalty unlike anyone before her, and it’s time she gets her flowers and the crown that this Queen deserves.