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Goats are hoofed, horned and bearded ruminants that are closely related to sheep but are hairy instead of woolly. The males are billy goats, the females are nanny goats and the kids are called kids. Goats were domesticated by humans who drank their milk, ate their meat, burned their dung as fuel, used their hair as clothing and their bones and sinews as tools and building materials Wild goats have longer horns and their mountain habitats are mostly steep, rocky territories. Wild goats are extraordinarily nimble and have a remarkable sense of balance because of their complex inner ear canals.

Mountain goats have remarkably high levels of two things that allow them to run with speed and grace, up, down and along the faces of what often appear to be impossibly sheer cliffs.

  • Equilibrioception is our sense of balance, the way we perceive our body’s environment and our awareness of our equilibrium in relation to gravity. It’s how we manage to stay upright even when on a slope, pushed by the wind or jostled in a crowd.
  • Proprioperception is our sense of the relative positions and movements of neighboring parts of our bodies.
Being the goat was a badge of shame

Writing in Sports Illustrated, Michael Rosenberg says the goat used to be the fall guy, the opposite of a hero. Goat was short for “wearing the goat horns,” used to describe a man who is cuckolded by an adulterous wife, surely an unpleasant situation to be in, and surely not heroic. To be made the goat is to be singled out to take the blame. Goats in sports were the athletes who made boneheaded plays that lost the game. The Minnesota Vikings’ Jim Marshall scooped up a fumble and ran the wrong way, scoring a touchdown for the other team. It’s been showing on blooper films for the last 57 years, perhaps the GOAT goat.


When all caps, with or without the periods, this version of goat stands for Greatest Of All Time. It began as a way to describe the greatest athletes in the history of their sports. Sports nuts passionately argue for Michael Jordan or LeBron James, Pelé or Messi, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds or Hank Aaron, and so on. In true media herd fashion, GOATS are now everywhere.

G.S.F. and M.P. F.

The athlete each of us like to think of as the best of the best (I say Jim Thorpe) should really be called Greatest So Far or even My Personal Favorite, but GSF and MPF are hard to pronounce. Generally speaking, anyone’s notion of who is the greatest of all time in any sport is closely tied to five things:

  • Team loyalty tilts your perception in favor of the home team and your sports heroes of childhood.
  • The recency effect tilts the field toward those athletes who are playing now. It is a component of something else, called the serial position effect, where the position of items on a list influence how those items are rated and recalled.
  • Modern players play for more money. If you use career earnings as your GOAT metric, Jack Nicklaus won 73 times in his 40 years on tour. His lifetime earnings of $5.7 million puts him in 298th place on the all-time list, an average of about $140,000 a year. In 2022 alone, 126 PGA Tour players earned more than a million dollars while the leader won $14 million.
  • Modern players have more chances to set sports records. Pro football teams once played 12 regular-season games a year and now they play 17. Those who keep winning through post-season tournaments get to play in more games where they pile up more touchdowns, passes, yards, tackles. These changes make breaking records inevitable, because the latest is only the greatest so far and no one knows who is the best there ever will be.
  • Television skews your perceptions. Athletes playing now are seen by millions while young players and fans know little or nothing about Dr. J.

Handle the G.O.A.T. with kid gloves

Hides from kid goats make some of the world’s smoothest, softest and supplest leather gloves. Servants were commanded to wear kid gloves because they left no smudges on the silverware. Nowadays you see them used by people who handle museum artifacts, old documents and expensive items for Sotheby’s. The formal notion of handling people with kid gloves means we are treating them with excessive care. The implication is that the person being handled is highly volatile. The more common version means to be very careful around touchy people.

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