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Competition provides spice in life as well as in sports; it’s only when the spice becomes the entire diet that the player gets sick.

George Leonard
George Leonard (1923-2010) American writer, editor, and educator
Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (1991)
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Added on 29-Mar-22 | Last updated 29-Mar-22
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Nice guys finish last.

Leo Durocher
Leo Durocher (1905-1991) American professional baseball player, manager, coach ["Leo the Lip"]
(Paraphrase)

The full quote was reported by in the column by Frank Graham, "Leo Doesn't Like Nice Guys," New York Journal-American (6 Jul 1946). When, as Brooklyn Dodgers manager, asked by a reporter if he were a nice guy:

Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! The nice guys over there are in seventh place. Well let them come and get me. The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place.

As the anecdote was retold (even when Graham's column was reprinted in Baseball Digest in the fall of that year), the references to "seventh place" began morphing into "last place" and "in the second division," eventually settling on the shorter version cited above. While Durocher originally denied he'd said the shorter version, he eventually lay claim to it, and used it as the title of his 1975 autobiography.

More discussion of this quotation:
 
Added on 22-Mar-22 | Last updated 22-Mar-22
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Life, after we’d had a few millennia to observe it, turned out to be dreadfully unfair, so we invented sports.

Barbara Holland (1933-2010) American author
(Attributed)
 
Added on 29-Dec-21 | Last updated 29-Dec-21
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When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him Vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God we call him Sportsman.

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American educator, writer, critic, naturalist
The Great Chain of Life, ch. 9 “Reverence for Life” (1956)
    (Source)

Often misquoted as "a vandal ... a sportsman."
 
Added on 30-Sep-21 | Last updated 30-Sep-21
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Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through. Sport gives players an opportunity to know and test themselves.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Sudden Death (1983)
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Added on 6-Aug-21 | Last updated 6-Aug-21
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Coaches and headmasters praise sport as a preparation for the great game of life, but this is absurd. Nothing could be more different from life. For one thing sports, unlike life, are played according to rules. Indeed, the rules are the sport: life may behave bizarrely and still be life, but if the runner circles the bases clockwise it’s no longer baseball.

Barbara Holland (1933-2010) American author
Endangered Pleasures (1995)
 
Added on 29-Sep-20 | Last updated 29-Sep-20
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The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.

John Wooden (1910-2010) American basketball player and coach
They Call Me Coach, ch. 25, epigraph (1972)
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Added on 21-Nov-18 | Last updated 21-Nov-18
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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.

Heywood Hale Broun (1918-2001) American author, sportswriter, actor
In Ames Daily Tribune (16 Jan 1974)

Broun used a number of variations of this idea. It was more famously paraphrased in James Michener, Sports in America (1976), as "Sports do not build character. They reveal it." More discussion on this quote here.
 
Added on 18-Oct-16 | Last updated 18-Oct-16
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Years ago we discovered the exact point, the dead center of middle age. It occurs when you are too young to take up golf and too old to rush up to the net.

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) American journalist and humorist
Nods and Becks (1944)
 
Added on 9-Oct-16 | Last updated 9-Oct-16
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One of the things that I noticed in war was how difficult it was for our soldiers, at first, to realize that there are no rules to war. Our men were raised in sports, where a referee runs a football game, or an umpire a baseball game, and so forth.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Conference of the National Women’s Advisory Committee on Civil Defense (26 Oct 1954)
 
Added on 16-Feb-16 | Last updated 16-Feb-16
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I am convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than an automobile.

Tom C. Clark (1899-1977) American lawyer, US Attorney General, US Supreme Court Justice (1949-1967)
(Attributed)

Speaking of recreational programs to reduce juvenile delinquency. Quoted in Reader's Digest, Vol. 60 (1952). Restated as "I still believe that any boy would rather steal second base than an automobile" in Washington World, Vol. 3 (1963).
 
Added on 6-Jan-16 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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There is no business like show business — except sports business.

William J. Baker (contemp.) American historian, academic, writer
Sports in the Western World, ch. 19 (1982)
 
Added on 28-Apr-14 | Last updated 28-Apr-14
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In America, it is sport that is the opiate of the masses.

Russell Baker (1925-2019) American journalist, author, humorist
“The Muscular Opiate,” New York Times (3 Oct 1967)
 
Added on 10-Apr-14 | Last updated 10-Apr-14
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Catching a fly ball is a pleasure, but knowing what to do with it is a business.

Tommy Henrich (1913-2009) American baseball player [a/k/a "The Clutch" and "Old Reliable"]
In Peter Golenbock, Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964, “1949” (1975)
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Added on 7-Mar-14 | Last updated 7-Mar-14
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Can you appreciate music without playing it? Of course you can, in the same way that people who are not athletes get enjoyment from attending a game to enjoy the crowd, the excitement, and the experience.

Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) Lithuanian-American violinist
(Unsourced)
 
Added on 9-Dec-13 | Last updated 9-Dec-13
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The important thing in life is not the victory but the contest; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well.

[L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.]

Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (1863-1937) French pedagogue, historian, founder of the International Olympic Committee
Olympic Creed, Speech, Olympic Games, London (24 Jul 1908)

Alt. trans: "The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Original phrasing by de Coubertin: "The importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part."

De Coubertin was drawing from a sermon by Bp. Ethelbert Talbot at St Paul's Cathedral, London (19 Jul 1908): "We have just been contemplating the great Olympic Games. What does it mean? It means that young men of robust physical life have come from all parts of the world. It does mean, I think, as someone has said, that this era of internationalism as seen in the Stadium has an element of danger. Of course, it is very true, as he says, that each athlete strives not only for the sake of sport, but for the sake of his country. Thus a new rivalry is invented. If England be beaten on the river, or America outdistanced on the racing path, or that American has lost the strength which she once possessed. Well, what of it? The only safety after all lies in the lesson of the real Olympia -- that the Games themselves are better than the race and the prize. St. Paul tells us how insignificant is the prize, Our prize is not corruptible, but incorruptible, and though only one may wear the laurel wreath, all may share the equal joy of the contest. All encouragement, therefore, be given to the exhilarating -- I might also say soul-saving -- interest that comes in active and fair and clean athletic sports."
 
Added on 4-Apr-11 | Last updated 15-Jul-20
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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic
 
Added on 16-Aug-07 | Last updated 24-Sep-14
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If you don’t play to win, why bother to keep score?

Adolph Rupp
Adolph Rupp (1901-1977) American college basketball coach
Comment (11 Jun 1958)

Rupp frequently returned to this phrase, usually in response to someone quoting to him from Grantland Rice's "Alumnus Football" (paraphrased, "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, but how you play the game").

Variations:

  • "If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then what in the hell is that scoreboard doing up there?"
  • "If it doesn't matter, then why does every school have a scoreboard? If it doesn't matter who wins why do 25,000 football fans follow a team 400 miles and sit in eight inches of snow to watch the game?" [Source]
  • "If winning isn't so important, why do they keep score?" [Source]
Rupp wasn't necessarily the originator of this thought. Clair Bee, another US college basketball coach, said during the CCNY Point Shaving Scandal that ended his career, "If the kids aren't playing for keeps, why keep score?" (20 Feb 1951).

Sometimes attributed to Vince Lombardi.

More discussion of this quotation: The Big Apple: “If winning isn’t important, why keep score?”
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Mar-22
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I think NASCAR would be much more exciting if, like in a skating rink, every 15 minutes someone announced it was time to reverse direction.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Jeffrey Anbinder (Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Jul-21
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No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) English mathematician and philosopher
“Harvard: The Future,” sec. 5, The Atlantic Monthly (Sep 1936)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Essays in Science and Philosophy, Part 3 (1947). Often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Feb-22
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