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.

Continue reading Sports Do Not Build Character; They Reveal It


  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)

A Master in the Art of Living Makes Little Distinction Between His Work and His Play

James Michener? Zen Buddhist saying? L.P. Jacks?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been deeply moved by an inspirational passage that I thought was written by a Zen Buddhist master:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

However, when I recently searched the internet to locate the name of the Zen master I was shocked to find that the words were attributed to the late author James Michener whose fame was based on writing fat tomes that became bestsellers.

Michener did win a Pulitzer Prize and I do not wish to disparage his work but when I think of a spiritual guide I envision someone different. Could you look into this quote and determine who really created it?

Quote Investigator: There is no compelling evidence that this quote was crafted by Michener. Nor is there evidence of a Zen Buddhist origin. The spiritual tradition of the creator of the passage is Unitarian. Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, an educator and Unitarian minister who is pictured in the center image above, crafted the quotation and used it in a book he authored in the 1930s. His name is often abbreviated as L. P. Jacks.

Continue reading A Master in the Art of Living Makes Little Distinction Between His Work and His Play