Sports Illustrated Cover and GOAT Jinxes

When the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated was published only in print, whoever made the cover was subject to a jinx. Based on analysis of the data, the player or team who made the cover fared less well in the next few weeks. It may be related to over-confidence after the notoriety or that opponents tried harder to knock off the more publicized.

Lately, sports pundits have been throwing around the term GOAT, which is short for Greatest of All Time. This level of immortality is a hard accolade (or cross) to bear. To me, to call someone this before he, she or they finish playing puts unbelievable pressure on the athletes. Simone Biles has been called the GOAT for women’s gymnastics.

I am not saying this is what happened to Biles, but I have to believe she put enormous pressure on herself. I do know, after several moves have been named after Biles, she is still trying to push the envelope with bigger and better moves. Rather than focus on moves she has done well, she is trying harder ones. Did this lead her to lose confidence in herself when she fell short? – maybe.

It is tough to be king or queen of the hill. I have always felt Tiger Woods handled the pressure so well, but even he had his personal issues that hurt his ability to compete at the same high level. And, just like in Biles’ case, the competition got better. She deserves the accolades she has received, but like Woods, she is only human playing a sport that requires equal parts athleticism, art and precision.

So, we should be mindful no one is immortal. Let me switch to another golfer who even Woods is chasing – Jack Nicklaus. While Nicklaus has won twenty major golf championships, he has also finished second I believe twenty-one times. So, we should not forget that the person who has won the most major trophies, just missed twenty-one times. That shows how hard it is to win, but reveals how talented he was.

Speaking of pressure, many may not know who Bill Russell is. He is arguably the greatest basketball team player of all time. Why? His teams won eleven NBA basketball championships, two NCAA championships and one Olympic Gold medal. One thing about Russell is before every big game, he could be heard throwing up in the locker room bathroom. His teammates knew if they heard this, they were going to win, as if Russell was nervous, he would play better. But, Russell was a rarity. Dealing with pressure is tough.

The baseball pitcher John Smoltz was known for being a better pitcher under pressure. When asked about this, he said he actually performed at the same level, it is every one else whose performance fell off under pressure situations. So, the lesson to all athletes, but especially the better ones, take care of what is under your control. When the best player on a basketball team was asked why he tended to take the last shot to win, he responded that he was the only one who could handle the failure of missing it.

But, when folks slap the label GOAT on you while you are still performing, it adds an extra dose of pressure. I feel for those folks, as it takes an extra dose of courage and humility to carry that burden. It seems the best athletes tend to function at the highest level when they have good competition – think Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in tennis.

Who are the greatest of all time? Let’s wait until they finish and then judge. And, let’s enjoy their talent while we can.