John Wayne’s Time on the Football Field Led to His Basic Life Mantra

In addition to the expansive movie career John Wayne had, he also played college football. However, things didn’t work quite as planned, and he ended up working in the entertainment industry and making Hollywood history. He took a major lesson that he learned on the football field and implemented it in his film career, as well as every other aspect of his life. Wayne credited this time in his life as one where he picked up his basic life mantra.

John Wayne played football before a bodysurfing accident

College football player John Wayne wearing a football coach uniform looking off-camera
John Wayne | Screen Archives/Getty Images

Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, but he grew up in Southern California, where he ultimately played football. He was incredibly active during his time in high school, taking part in the football team, the debate team, the Latin Society, and contributed to the school’s newspaper sports section. However, Wayne would prove that football wasn’t only an extracurricular that existed during his time in high school.

The movie star took his athleticism to his college, University of Southern California (USC), where he studied pre-law. He played on the football team, but a bodysurfing injury ultimately changed the course of his life forever. As a result, Wayne lost his athletic scholarship, forcing him to drop out of college.

John Wayne learned respect on the football field

The official Wayne Twitter account posted about the actor’s values, including one lesson that he learned from the football field. He talked about a “basic” one that ultimately became his life mantra. It even guided the way that he interacted with fellow actors.

“I think the lesson you learned on the football field is basic,” Wayne said. “If the player on the other side of the scrimmage line is as good or better than you, you don’t care what color, religion, or nationality he is; you respect him. I’ve tried to live by that all my life.”

Wayne occasionally lost his temper, such as when he nearly fought with his The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance co-star, Woody Strode. The two of them later grew to be on better terms, but filmmaker John Ford certainly made it an incredibly difficult shoot for all those involved. Nevertheless, Wayne charmed many of his colleagues because of his natural charm and the way that he implemented his values.

He held onto his values in movie roles


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Wayne brought the lessons he learned from the football field and in other aspects of life onto the silver screen. He was very intentional about all of the characters the played in motion pictures over the years. The movie star played heroes who he believed fought with integrity with American values of strength. Wayne sought this with characters like Marine Sgt. John Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima and J.B. Books in The Shootist.

He went as far as to turn down significant parts in movies such as High Noon because he believed that they worked against his values. As a result, Wayne rejected Oscar-nominated and winning parts in favor of sticking to his guns. It’s clear that he refused to reject even the most basic of his values for the character that he projected onto the silver screen.