Discussions about Muhammad Ali since his death a week ago have been many and wide ranging. One recurring topic is that of comparisons. What other sports luminaries in American history have carried iconicism so far? Ali's athletic prowess and boxing accomplishments combined with his social influence take him to a unique level. Even though death instantly reinvigorates affection for someone, while acting as a flaw eraser, I can state with confidence that Ali's breadth of greatness eclipses all others in sports. Ever.
Many others in varying sports are miniature versions of Ali, either in talent, cultural scope, or both. Today, I choose to highlight three, that get particularly high marks from me.
Arnold Palmer was the best golfer in the world before Jack Nicklaus arrived. At a time when television was emerging in this country, few American athletes were as charasmatic as the King - and he was piped into your living room every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. America's everyman, Arnie appealed to the CEO at the Country Club, the mechanic downtown, and everyone in between. Additionally, he helped draw all continents together to make golf a global sport.
Jackie Robinson was a multi-tool baseball talent, but he'll be remembered as a culture changer. As the first black player in the Major Leagues, he was the initial drip that opened the floodgates. Scores of transcendent Negro Leaguers showed the majors the talent block that it had been missing. Those that followed were the beneficiaries. But Jackie shouldered the burden.
In the new millenium, a college football player emerged that helped redefine the quarterback position. It had never been played with as much rough & tumble abandon as it was by Tim Tebow. He broke records through the air and on the ground, while revolutionizing the jump pass at the goal line. Tebow Mania helped stear him to a Heisman Trophy and two National Championships at the University of Florida. But there was so much more to Tebow. He was the ultimate millennial role model.. a charming, squeaky clean Man of God.
Along with these three, countless other iconic sports figures have come and gone.. the Babe Ruths, the Michael Jordans, the Jesse Owens, and beyond. But stand them up opposite Muhammad Ali, and they're all vying for second place. There's only room for one in the category of "The Greatest."