A "GOAT" logo.
Line By Line Vectors/Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or a casual viewer, you’ve likely heard the term “GOAT” before. Here’s what being the “GOAT” of a sport (or anything else) means.

“Greatest of All Time”

GOAT stands for “greatest of all time.” If you’ve participated in online sports talk, you may recognize that the term is used to refer to the greatest athlete in the history of a professional sport. Alternatively, some use it to refer to the best currently active athlete in the field. Because of its prominence, it has also become a general term for an all-time great at topics outside of sports.

The acronym is frequently found in every part of the internet where sports are talked about. This includes message boards, social networking sites, and video sharing sites like YouTube. It is also used between smaller groups of sports fans, whether in chats or real life. Many sports media outlets have also adopted the term, frequently writing articles about who they think the GOAT of a particular field is.

GOAT is always spelled in the uppercase to avoid confusion with the noun “goat,” which refers to the animal. It can also be spelled out as “G.O.A.T.,” with periods after each letter.

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The Origins of GOAT

Art of Muhammed Ali.
Muhammad Ali ernando febrian/Shutterstock.com

Unlike other acronyms we’ve covered here at How-To Geek, GOAT was not a product of early internet users. It originates from a very unexpected source: a professional athlete. In 1992, pro boxer Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali, incorporated a company called “G.O.A.T. Inc” that held together all assets related to her husband’s image. This was the first notable instance of GOAT being used to refer to “greatest of all time.”

The term gained even wider popularity in 2000 with the release of the LL Cool J studio album G.O.A.T. It went platinum and reached #1 in the United States, further solidifying the place of the term in pop culture.

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Since then, the mass popularity of professional sports all around the world has contributed to the rise of the term and debates surrounding it. It has seen a big uptick in usage in the last couple of years thanks to athletes’ dominant performances. Social networking platforms and prominent news websites constantly ignite “GOAT debates” to increase engagement.

The GOAT in Sports

Serena Williams at the 2016 US Open Grand Slam tennis tournament
Serena Williams Jimmie48 Photography/Shutterstock.com

Over the last decade, the topic of “Who’s the GOAT?” has become a prominent part of sports talk.

Some examples of athletes who have been referred to as the GOAT of their respective sports include Tom Brady, Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, and Tiger Woods. In 2021, GOAT saw a significant spike in Google search popularity. This is largely due to NFL player Tom Brady winning his seventh Super Bowl title.

Because sports are highly driven by competition between fans, the emergence of online platforms for fans to debate and discuss sports has been instrumental in making the initialism a part of common language.

GOAT in Other Fields

Outside of sports, GOAT has also become a catch-all term for someone who is the “greatest of all time” in a particular field. For example, you might say that “Einstein is the GOAT of physics” or “Meryl Streep is the GOAT actress.”

Social media platforms like Reddit have also given rise to debates in other spheres of culture. People frequently discuss who the GOAT musicians, business executives, fashion designers, and artists are.

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It can also be used in a joking manner to refer to yourself or your acquaintances. You could sarcastically say that someone is the GOAT at something negative, such as “the GOAT of being late” or “the GOAT of not paying attention.” You could also call yourself the GOAT of something in a hyperbolic way, such as “I’m the GOAT at making mac and cheese.”

How to Use GOAT

When using GOAT in chats or on social media, write it in full uppercase. Swap out the acronym for when you would otherwise say “greatest of all time.” It can also be spoken aloud in IRL conversations. You will need to use context clues to determine what type of “GOAT” the person is referring to.

Here are a few examples of GOAT in action:

  • “Who do you think is the GOAT of basketball?”
  • “Tom Brady is the GOAT.”
  • “You’re the GOAT at forgetting to wash the dishes.”
  • “I think Charles Dickens is the GOAT novelist.”

If you want to learn about other acronyms frequently used on the internet, check out our pieces on TIL and ELI5.

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Vann Vicente Vann Vicente
Vann Vicente has been a technology writer for four years, with a focus on explainers geared towards average consumers. He also works as a digital marketer for a regional e-commerce website. He's invested in internet culture, social media, and how people interact with the web.
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