Nile Kinnick

American football player

Nile Clarke Kinnick Jr. (July 9, 1918June 2, 1943) was a student and a college football player at the University of Iowa. He won the 1939 Heisman Trophy and was a consensus All-American. He died during a training flight while serving as a United States Navy aviator in World War II. Kinnick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and the University of Iowa renamed its football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor in 1972.

Nile Kinnick (circa 1939)


  • To be a tough, rugged boy is every lad’s ambition. But to be a gentleman, to be kindly, charitable, thoughtful as well as tough and rugged is much more to be desired. And he who can be both is much the better man and usually much tougher in the long run.
    • Letter to his younger brother George (July 18, 1938)
  • Do not quibble or quarrel over trivialities but stand firm as the rock of Gibraltar on matters of principle. That is, do not argue vociferously over a referee’s decision or a difference in the size of dessert but stand solid and unflinching when it is a question of absolute honesty, truthfulness, kindliness, compassion, (or) thoughtfulness.
    • Letter to his younger brother George (July 18, 1938)
  • For three years, nay for fifteen years, I have been preparing for this last year of football...I anticipate becoming the roughest, toughest all-around back yet to hit this conference.
    • Letter to his parents before his senior season (January 9, 1939)
  • Religions, convictions, philosophies may differ – widely and bitterly; but never, in my belief, should such differences be allowed to assume the personal aspect. Disassociation from people for such reasons is inexcusable; it is representative of bigotry and intolerance.
    • Letter to his parents (January 9, 1939)
  • This idea of working just to make money or setting up in business just as a means to a livelihood is all wrong...It seems to me absolutely necessary, and in reality a joy, that a young man starting out in the world should be imbued with a desire to benefit mankind and society by his work and service - whether that be in the field of business, law, or something else.
    • Letter to his parents (January 13, 1939)
  • Nile Kinnck was born in 1902. Kinnick played basketball and football it high school. He moved on to play for the iowa hawkeyes and is still the only one from Iowa to win the Heisman. While playing for Iowa he broke many records he also dropped kicked for the team. It is my belief that the essential thing to be gained from a college education is to learn to think, to think for yourself; to develop an active, alert, inquiring mind...In reality you have to educate yourself. College only presents the opportunity.
    • Letter to his parents (January 16, 1939)
  • Too much time is spent getting ready to live and making a living and not enough in living dynamically and enjoyably right now. The most important thing – and I am sure I am right – is to maintain an active, alert interest in everything going on about you.
    • Letter to his parents (January 16, 1939)
  • When the members of any nation have come to regard their country as nothing more than the plot of ground on which they reside, and their government as a mere organization for providing police or contracting treaties; when they have ceased to entertain any warmer feelings for one another than those which interest or personal friendship or a mere general philanthropy may produce, the moral dissolution of that nation is at hand.
    • Campaign speech for 1940 presidential candidate Wendell Willkie (September 27, 1940)
  • We either must jump in this mess strongly regardless of the risk or refuse to take our rightful place in the world. More than at any time since the Napoleonic period Western Civilization and Christianity are at stake. That puts it strongly but is no exaggeration just the same. Lincoln was a moral and upright man. He was a pacifist at heart. But when there was no other alternative he did not equivocate nor cravenly talk of peace when there was no peace. He grabbed the bull by the horns; realizing that the nation could not endure half slave and half free, he threw down the gauntlet and eradicated the evil. We are faced with the same thing and the longer we wait the worse it becomes.
    • Letter to his parents regarding World War II (April 25, 1941)
  • We are not people apart; there is no reason in the world why we shouldn't fight for the preservation of a chance to live freely; no reason why we shouldn't suffer to uphold that which we want to endure than it is anyone else. And it is a matter of self-preservation right this very minute...May God give me courage to do my duty and not falter.
    • Letter to his parents regarding World War II (April 25, 1941)
  • It is very sobering to realize just what the future holds for a boy of my age. On the other hand it is a practical challenge to a man’s courage and personal integrity. A man who talks but is afraid to act, who sacrifices principle to expediency whenever real danger threatens is not worthy to keep and enjoy what he has. He is not worthy of his background and heritage who kowtows to tyranny in order to cling to his temporary safety and comfort...I trust I will have the courage to act as I speak come what may. I will not be easy – but should, therefore, can be done.
    • Letter to his grandmother (April 29, 1941)
  • I am fully aware that this country is on the brink of a shooting war in two oceans, and that I might, in a very short while, find myself in the thick of very serious combat work. But what should be done, can be done, and the best way is always through and not around. Every man whom I have admired in history has willingly and courageously served in his country's armed forces in times of danger. It is not only a duty, but an honor, to follow their example as best I know how. May God give me the courage and ability to so conduct myself in every situation that my country, my family, and my friends will be proud of me.
    • Journal entry upon entering the armed services (December 3, 1941)
  • I share with you an innate desire to be of public service to this country. It is the lot of our generation to serve as military men first, and then, with an idealism undaunted to enlist with as much zeal to form a lasting peace. All will come right, our cause is just and righteous. This country will not lose.
    • Letter to friend Loren Hickerson (December 13, 1941)
  • Some day I would like to meet you as a fellow senator or representative in Washington, D.C. Whether that will ever be my lot none can now say. But for those who have the rightful desire and expectation, a way is usually opened. Let us hope that you and I, and many, many others like us, will be enabled someday, somewhere, somehow to contribute in some small way to the peace and progress of this world. There is nothing wrong with dreams provided foundations are put under them.
    • Letter to friend Loren Hickerson (December 13, 1941)
  • It will be a long and bitter road to victory, but victory there will be, and with it the U.S. will have gained the world prestige she long ago should have earned.
    • Letter to friend Loren Hickerson (December 13, 1941)
  • Rightly or wrongly, football is very definitely tied up with the status of a university. The majority of people who go to college...they don’t get that wider horizon or that better mental equilibrium. But they do get the opportunity. I think the same thing is true about football. While possibly the majority of boys don’t get those subjective values that I mentioned, certainly the opportunity is there, and I think the values they do get are perhaps more intensely brought out than they are in an educational system itself. As far as any activities I have been connected with are concerned, football has given me the opportunity to round out my philosophy and to change my thinking process more than any other activity with which I have been connected.
    • Audio interview (1942)
  • The changing seasons of the Midwest – the intense heat in summer, bitter cold in winter, and unsurpassable beauty and invigorating weather of fall and spring – is what makes it an interesting place to live. Only robust and virile people can live in such a climate and enjoy it.
    • Journal entry (January 6, 1942)
  • (Sports) provides a wonderful opportunity for initiating acquaintance. Regardless of the degree of our civilization, people still thrill to physical combat and admire the man who excels. He who is of proven merit in the field of major sports has shown to all that he is possessed of strength, vigor, stamina, and courage. The great majority of people want to know such a man...How well I have taken advantage of the football reputation it was my good fortune to gain is for others to judge, but I personally am very thankful for the whole experience and the fun and friends it has brought me.
    • Journal entry (February 22, 1942)
  • Oh, for the farm where a man is truly independent, and where he deals with fundamentals, where the changing seasons brings changed work, and a man is out of doors all the time. It is on the farm that a man can devote his life to his investment and see the improvement and growth from year to year...I enjoy thinking of such things and there is no doubt that I am a midwesterner through and through.
    • Letter to his father (June 29, 1942)
  • The inequities in human relationships are many, but the lot of the Negro is one of the worst. Here in the south this fact is tragically evident. The poor colored people are kicked from pillar to post, condemned, cussed, ridiculed, accorded no respect, permitted no sense of human dignity. What can be done I don't know. Nearly everyone, particularly the southerners, seem to think the only problem involved is seeing to it that they keep their place, whatever that may be. We supposedly are fighting this war to obliterate the malignant idea of racial supremacy and master-slave relationships. When this war is over the colored problem is apt to be more difficult than ever. May wisdom, justice, brotherly love guide our steps to the right solution.
    • Journal entry (March 12, 1942)
  • The task which lies ahead is adventure as well as duty, and I am anxious to get at it. I feel better in mind and body than I have for ten years and am quite certain I can meet the foe confident and unafraid...Truly, we have shared to the full life, love, and laughter. Comforted in the knowledge that your thought and prayer go with us every minute, and sure that your faith and courage will never falter, no matter the outcome, I bid you au revoir.
    • Letter to his parents (April 24, 1943)

Quotes About Nile Kinnick

  • Kinnick is one of the finest all-around backs I've seen in a long time. You find a player like him once in a generation. Usually when you find a great football player, he is great because he has one exceptional talent. Kinnick is exceptional at everything.
    • Wisconsin coach Harry Stuhldreher (October 28, 1939)
  • Nile was an outstanding man in every respect. His calm and determined manner, his quick grin, his sound common sense, and his outstanding all-around abilities made him a wonderful asset to the squadron and a man that we were proud to call our friend. His loss was a terrible blow to all of us and a serious loss to the country he so ably served.
    • Naval Lt. Commander Paul Buie, memo to Kinnick's parents disclosing Kinnick's death (June 6, 1943)
  • The ways of the Lord must be many and some of them seem hard to understand. Perhaps He refuses to allow His special clay to engage in our bloody little game...Perhaps he was jerked in the first quarter because war just wasn't his field.
    • John Evans, a law school classmate of Kinnick's, upon Kinnick's death
  • His life until June 2 was as near perfection as anything I expect to see in my time here. The inspiration of his example has affected and will continue to affect his college generation. The tragedy of his death is that the qualities and abilities which he possessed will be so much needed in the years after the war.
    • Virgil Hancher, president of the University of Iowa, upon Kinnick's death
  • Nile Kinnick will be remembered as long as there is an Iowa...He aspired to our profession and began the study of law...Then, just as he was well started, came his country's call to service...I have no doubt Kinnick would have written his name high in the law. There is no calculating what he might have done in and for the profession, or therefore, what it and the nation have lost by his sacrifice...He might have been the great scholar and teacher, the pre-eminent advocate, the judicial statesman. But all this he gave that these institutions...might survive and have being for generations to come.
    • Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge, upon Kinnick's death
  • Nile Kinnick was the greatest football player I have ever coached and one of the greatest and most courageous I have ever seen...they named me Coach of the Year in 1939, but there is no doubt that the glory belonged to Iowa and Kinnick.
    • Hall of Fame coach Eddie Anderson, in 1974
Wikipedia has an article about: