So, I can be a bit picky about semantics. You don’t do “good” on a test – you do “well.” They only time you do “good” is when you are doing good works. With each word having its own connotation and usage, I think it is important to choose our words carefully.
Now, keeping this in mind…
I came across an article written about Ed Reed, a safety on the Baltimore Ravens. In the article, Troy Polamalu, who plays the same position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, quotes himself as telling Reed “[y]ou’re the greatest safety ever to play the game” (Hensley, 2012). As a disclaimer – this is a wonderful compliment to give an accomplished athlete, and yes, it is impossible to analyze everything we intend to say, and do say, in the spur of the moment. But I would like to take a moment to do just that with two greater points in mind.
Being the greatest “ever”… “ever” to me implies “at any time,” a definition also offered by dictionary.com. But “any time” consists of the past, the present, and the future. So is Polamalu’s a fair statement to make? The rules of football have changed over the years, and I would be surprised if they did not continue to change. This means that football is qualitatively different today than it was in the past, and will most likely be different from football as it is played x-amount of years from now. Therefore, it seems to me that it is impossible to assess and determine who is the greatest at any one position because we will never be able to compare all players in the same situations (e.g., when the game is played the same way). And unless I am mistaken, we have yet to develop an assessment to accurately predict future performance, so there is no way to know how a retiring player would match up against incoming rookies.
And this brings me to my greater points. One, assessments must take into account the demands of the sport, and as the demands of the sport change, so too must the assessments used to predict performance. Two, we can assess athletes with the purpose of predicting performance, but, as of yet, not with a high degree of accuracy. And I would like to propose that this is okay – after all, wouldn’t sports be boring to watch if we already knew who would win?
Hensley, J. (2012, January 27). The brains behind Baltimore’s D. ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7497029/ed-reed-greatest-safety-ever