Category Archives: John Wooden

Sports Do Not Build Character; They Reveal It

John Wooden? Heywood Hale Broun? James Michener? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Participation in sports is enjoyable and salubrious for a great many people. One often hears that sports can also build character, but a shrewd remark spins this traditional assertion:

Sports don’t build character; they reveal it.

These words have been attributed to renowned basketball coach John Wooden and influential sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI was published in January 1974 in the “Ames Daily Tribune” of Ames, Iowa. Heywood Hale Broun who was described as an “off-beat sports commentator for CBS television” had recently visited the city and delivered a speech. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Some persons say that athletics, and coaches, build character. Broun has a different outlook.

“Anybody who teaches a skill, which coaches do, is admirable. But sport doesn’t build character. Character is built pretty much by the time you’re six or seven. Sports reveals character. Sports heightens your perceptions. Let that be enough.”

Broun expressed this idea more than once, and he employed different phrasings. The popular modern version was a concise and elegant instance.

The evidence linking the adage to John Wooden was weak. It was attributed to him by 2006, but that was many years after it began to circulate. Wooden died in 2010.

Top-notch researcher Barry Popik also explored this topic and located some valuable citations. His webpage is here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1974 January 16, Ames Daily Tribune, Broun: ‘I like to see things done with zest’ by Larry Lockhart (Sports Editor), Quote Page 11, Column 4, Ames, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Things Turn Out Best for Folks Who Make the Best of the Way Things Turn Out

Titus Livius? John Wooden? Art Linkletter? Anonymous?

wooden08Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone experiences some adversity, and that may help to explain the popularity of the following adage:

Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.

These words have been attributed to at least three people: Roman historian Titus Livius, basketball coach John Wooden, and television personality Art Linkletter. Who do you think should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In March 1961 an instance of this aphorism was published in the humor column of two community newspapers in Illinois. A person named “PF Pete” had collected the expression from an unnamed “Ad Boy”: 1 2

Ad Boy:
Things turn out for the best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.
PF Pete

The statement was constructed using a rhetorical technique called antimetabole. Successive phrases were repeated, but some key words were permuted. In this case, the words: “things”, “turn”, “out”, and “best” were repeated and reordered:

Part 1: Things turn out for the best for those who
Part 2: make the best out of the way things turn out.

In May 1961 the saying was printed in an advertisement for a bank published in a Brookshire, Texas newspaper. The words were ascribed to “Uncle Joe”: 3

“Things turn out for the best,” Uncle Joe remarked, “for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

In the following years, close variants of the adage were published in numerous newspapers. The ascription was omitted or employed non-specific identifiers such as “Ad Boy” or “Uncle Joe”. No individual was credited, and QI believes the statement should be labeled anonymous.

In 1973 prominent UCLA basketball coach John Wooden included the aphorism in a book he co-authored. Wooden did not claim coinage, nor did he provide an ascription. In 1979 entertainer Art Linkletter included the remark in a book he published and credited Wooden. Precise citations for Wooden and Linkletter are given further below. QI has found no substantive support for crediting the dictum to Titus Livius; that linkage appeared relatively recently.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who also examined this topic.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1961 March 26, The Park Forest Star: Serving America’s Model Community, The Outlet, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Park Forest, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1961 March 26, Homewood-Flossmoor Star: Your Community Newspaper, The Outlet, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Chicago, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1961 May 4, The Brookshire Times, (Advertisement for Farmers State Bank, Brookshire, Texas), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Brookshire, Texas. (Newspapers_com)