Earlier today golf legend and Ohio native Jack Nicklaus introduced Mitt Romney at a campaign stop in Westerville. Romney returned the favor by calling Nicklaus "the greatest athlete of the twentieth century," a claim that caused a few sports fans to clutch themselves in astonishment. Could this be his worst gaffe yet?
Let's start by not getting into a debate about whether golfers are real athletes who compare to the likes of football and basketball players, even though some would dispute that notion right away. Instead let's see what the experts think. ESPN's SportsCentury list, compiled at the turn of the last century, placed Nicklaus ninth among the greatest athletes of the era, behind some of the more obvious choices like Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Jesse Owens. A similar list by the Associated Press placed him twelfth. A Google search for "greatest athlete of the twentieth century" pretty much only brings up pages about Jim Thorpe.
Perhaps Romney was thinking of Sports Illustrated's "20th Century Awards" which they handed out in the fall of 1999. After dividing up athletes by their respective sports, the magazine named Nicklaus "the best individual male athlete of the 20th Century" ... but he wasn't competing against Jordan or Ruth or Wayne Gretzky. However, one of the other athletes in the "individual" sport category, Muhammad Ali, was the one who received the ultimate honor of SI's "Sportsman of the 20th Century," so obviously the confusion goes both ways. Plus, Ali is universally know as "The Greatest of All Time" and who's going to argue with that?