Andy Roddick Was Asked Same Question As John McEnroe & Handled It Flawlessly
The biggest controversy in the sports world and on sports Twitter right now is John McEnroe's interview with NPR, and the comments he made in reaction to an aggressive interviewer's questions about Serena Williams as the GOAT in the sport of tennis. Many writers, including myself, gave McEnroe a slight pass on his remarks that she'd rank 700 in the world if she played against men - due to the fact that he was kind of backed into a corner by the line of questioning.
However it's hard to cut him that level of slack after reading the comments that fellow tennis star Andy Roddick made just a few months ago in an interview with Katie Barnes of ESPNW.com. Here's the excerpt in which Barnes asks Roddick point-blank whether he believes that Serena is the greatest of all time regardless of gender:
espnW: What are your thoughts on Serena Williams hitting 23 major championships?
AR: It's amazing. I've known Serena since we were 8 or 9 years old. To see her go from the girl I used to practice next to all the time to become this icon -- and not just one of the greatest women athletes of all time, but one of the greatest athletes of all time, it's amazing. Watching her march her way through the history of our sport has been a pleasure. She's always been a friend first, and it's hard for me to disassociate that from who she has become, but it's been amazing to see.
espnW: Is she the GOAT, male or female?
AR: I don't think it is a question. I think it is a matter of correcting rhetoric. Saying she's the best woman athlete shouldn't be taken as offensive as long as she's in the conversation with the greatest male athletes of all time as well. We need to enter her into the conversation with Jordan and Ali. I think that's where the respect lies, and where the conversation needs to go, after the acknowledgement of what she's done for women in sports.
I wish I could insert the 'praising hands' emoji here, because it really embodies exactly how I feel about what Roddick said. There's truly no better way to answer that question. I made a point in my previous post covering McEnroe's interview to acknowledge that Serena's greatness transcends her domination of the sport itself in such a way that she's become legend. Serena Williams is not just the greatest female tennis player ever, or the most dominant female athlete ever - she is an icon.
That's the idea that Roddick is able to get at in his concise, honest assessment of what Serena means to tennis - and what the idea of the GOAT really encompasses. His natural inclination to remove expectations of gender performance from the conversation is the mark of a man who understands his sport's tendency to believe that the power in the men's game is "better" or exhibits more skill than the women's game.
In his answer, Roddick does what many males often fail to do, which is to realize that leaving Serena out of the GOAT conversation is a symptom of a much larger issue. Perhaps Serena couldn't have beaten McEnroe or Roddick in a match during their respective primes - but why does (possibly) being unable to beat a top-level male detract from her greatness? LeBron James could never have dunked on Wilt Chamberlain. The man was 7'1" tall. There's a very good chance that Babe Ruth couldn't have hit off Aroldis Chapman, since I doubt he regularly faced 97 mph fastballs in the 1920's. TOM BRADY CAN'T BEAT ELI MANNING IN A SUPER BOWL, for god's sake.
To be a GOAT, you have to win. But you don't have to be able to beat everyone. You just have to be inimitable - and I can think of few athletes across history that are more inimitable than Serena Williams.
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