Theodore Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919 — nearly one hundred years ago — but the author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and 26th President of the United States lives on through his larger-than-life accomplishments and impassioned speeches. In the past, we’ve highlighted some of the most powerful quotes from Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech delivered in Chicago in 1899, but that’s not the only speech of Teddy’s that still resonates today. Just ask 24-year-old golfer Jordan Spieth, who, at a recent press conference, revealed another bit of Roosevelt wisdom that he has put to good use:
In case you don’t want to watch the whole thing, Spieth mentions Teddy near the end of the video, saying:
“I’m going to fail and learn, and I’m going to succeed, but I’m the one in the arena and it’s … that quote from Teddy Roosevelt; it’s like my favorite quote from all time. There are going to be critics … and people that disagree with the way you do things or whatever, but I feel like I’m in a great place of who I am and what I’m doing going forward. And starting 2018 I’m kind of ready for anything. I’m ready for failure, for success, and everything in between.”
So what exactly is Spieth referencing in the video? The “man in the arena” quote comes from Roosevelt’s “Citizenship In A Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. The relevant portion reads:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
After leaving office in 1909, Roosevelt spent a year hunting in Central Africa before touring Northern Africa and Europe. The speech he delivered in Paris on that tour became an instant success, translated into multiple languages as it made its way across Europe and selling 5000 copies in pocketbook form in just five days.
The famous “man in the arena” quote, which was originally a tirade against those who criticize men who attempt to change the world for the better, became a favorite of future politicians, infamously used by President Richard Nixon in his resignation speech. But it wasn’t just politicians who were energized by Roosevelt’s words.
Over the years, countless athletes have also looked to the “man in the arena” quote as an attempt to silence the din of critics and cynics. Then-South African President Nelson Mandela gave a copy of the popular passage to Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team, before the 1995 World Cup which he went on to win in overtime against the favored All Blacks of New Zealand. The quote was also a favorite of MLBer Mark DeRosa, who read it to himself before big games and even read it aloud to his St. Louis Cardinals teammates before Game 4 of the National League Division Series in 2012. And now Spieth can be added to list, after his trainer, Damon Goddard, introduced him to the passage last summer.