Jim Brown, a lightning-quick running back who played for the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s and 1960s, has died. The Hall of Famer was 87 years old. Monique Brown, his wife, said on Instagram that he “passed peacefully last night at our LA home.”
“To the rest of the world, he was an activist, actor, and football star.” He was a caring and amazing husband, father, and grandpa to our family. “Our hearts are shattered.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described Brown as “one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field.” In a statement, he also cited his participation in the civil rights struggle as a precursor and role model for players to get active in social activities outside of sports.
Brown established himself as one of the game’s all-time greats during his nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns. But football was just the beginning of a life filled with success…and scandal.
Jim Brown, a great athlete, described it as the most beautiful game he had ever seen. A combination of speed, quickness, and intellect. His accomplishments earned him the distinction of becoming the first Black player elected into the Hall of Fame.
For the sport of lacrosse.
It looked out of place in comparison to his defining and brutal sport, football. It was, however, a credit to Brown’s exceptional athleticism, since he participated in four sports at Syracuse University. Track and field, basketball, lacrosse, and, of course, football are all popular sports.
That was the one that stayed with me.
In 2000, he told the NFL Network that he like how football was a continual challenge.
“In every way,” Brown continued, “physically, mentally, and courageously.” It drives you to the breaking point, and you can either cope with it or not.”
Football fans agree that Jim Brown “dealt with it” as well as any other running back in the game’s history.
Not just passing through
There are defensive players in the league who have committed their lives, hearts, and bodies to waging a holy battle against Jimmy Brown. None of them has yet triumphed in the crusade.
Brown scoffed at the prospect of going out of bounds on a play, despite his chiselled six-foot-two-inch, 230-pound frame.
But, because to his uncommon mix of strength, speed, and quickness, he didn’t just run through tacklers. He sped around and away from them, as proven by the lengthy touchdown runs in his highlight reel.
100 yards rushing in a game is still considered the gold standard for running backs. Brown averaged more than 100 yards in every regular-season game of his career.
He is the first player in NFL history to have done so.
Other notable Jim Brown career figures include: 5.2 is his average yards per carry; 8 represents the number of times he led the league in running throughout his nine-year career; and 0 represents the number of games he missed.
Is he the ideal running back? Almost. One flaw in his résumé was that he disliked blocking.
“The only thing I could say about Jim Brown,” late Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti recalled, “was that he wasn’t the best blocker in the world.” But who cares when you can sprint about and accomplish stuff like he can?”
Brown’s mental approach to the game was one of them.
Brown usually rose slowly after being tackled. So defenders never knew whether he was harmed or not.
“[It was] a little bit of playing possum,” remarked William Rhoden, a long-time New York Times sports journalist. “This is it, he’s had it, and he’d slowly get up and then completely vanquish the defence on the next play.”
As a teenage NFL fan, Rhoden enjoyed watching Jim Brown play long before he wrote about him. But he was especially taken by the manner Brown exited the game for good.
A proud guy becomes harsh.
The year was 1966, and it was summer. Brown was 30 years old and still in his peak. He’d earned his third Associated Press NFL MVP title the year before. Brown was also a budding actor, and that summer he was in England filming the World War II picture “The Dirty Dozen.”
Brown would be late to Cleveland for training camp if production was delayed.
Art Modell, the team’s owner, decided to punish Brown by fining him for the days he missed.
So Brown developed a sturdy back. He had retired.
He sent Modell a letter a few days before his declaration on the set.
“I was very sorry to see you make the statements that you did,” Brown wrote, “because it was a victory for the newspaper men, not for you or me.” Fortunately, I seem to have more trust in you than you have in me. I really admire you and would gladly assist you in any way I can, but you must understand that we are both men and that my masculinity is just as essential to me as yours is to you.”
Rhoden, who is African American, admired Brown’s tough message to his team’s owner.
“Are you going to do that to me, this proud Black man?” “Fuck you!” “And that, to me, is when his legend began to grow,” Rhoden added. And it would just get worse from there.”
A year after his unexpected retirement, Brown cemented his burgeoning legacy by organising the Cleveland Summit.
Athletes who are activists
Several notable Black sportsmen of the day, including basketball superstar Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, joined Brown in a meeting to examine the issue regarding boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight belt and was facing prosecution for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War months previously.
The athletes convened in Cleveland to discuss Ali’s position. However, there was another motive for their encounters, according to reports. Brown and others may have had a financial interest in Ali; there was a proposal for Ali to fight exhibition contests for US soldiers in return for his charges being dismissed.
However, Ali declined the matches.
Nonetheless, Brown and the others were united behind him. And the meeting became a watershed event in athlete activism history.
Brown would remain active in advocacy for the remainder of his life.
A alternative approach
Jim Brown, on the other hand, chose a different approach.
He didn’t believe in the power of protesting and marching. Brown expressed admiration for civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr.’s boldness and honesty in a 2010 interview. He disagreed, though, with King’s approach of passive opposition.
“I didn’t think nonviolence was a solution to America’s inequality problem,” Brown remarked. “I therefore believed that economic development and a sense of cultural power would be a better way to fight.” Because capitalism in America was flourishing, and you need resources.”
Brown founded the Amer-I-Can Foundation in 1988. Its objective was to put an end to the gang violence that was ripping apart inner-city neighbourhoods in southern California, his birthplace, and to provide young Black people with the skills they needed to achieve their economic and cultural ambitions.
Brown’s mansion became a popular location for amicable gang meetings between the legendary Crips and Bloods. “[Brown] said, you give me an opportunity to show you a different way of going about doing business, a different way of living your life,” anti-death penalty activist Aqeela Sherrills said, “and I promise you–you will never have to worry about sustaining yourself economically, taking care of your families, and taking care of your community for the rest of your life.”
However, there was a worrisome irony in Jim Brown’s life.
Brown skillfully preached to others about empowerment and personal responsibility while holding him responsible. However, he seemed to disregard such beliefs in a number of destructive relationships with women.
Brown was charged, prosecuted, and even imprisoned for many episodes of sexual and physical abuse between 1965 and 1999. These included the notorious 1968 altercation between Brown and a young female model in Hollywood, which caused neighbours to contact the cops. Officers came to find the lady unconscious and hurt under a balcony. Brown believes she fell while attempting to elude police; others claim she was thrown. He was accused with attempted murder, but the lady chose not to press charges. Decades later, she informed Spike Lee, who was making a documentary on Brown at the time, that the football hero had pushed her from the balcony.
Brown would admit some culpability over the years, but would mostly blame the public’s impression of these episodes on what he considered erroneous media reporting.
“A lot of it has to do with things I’ve done,” Brown said, “a lot of it has to do with things I’ve been accused of.” But the majority of it has to do with how those things are reported.”
According to sports writer Dave Zirin, “no conviction of violence against women resulted from any of the [charges against Brown].” However, in virtually all of these incidents, Brown was exonerated not so much by a jury as by the women involved, who in almost every case declined to press charges after first alerting the police.”
Zirin goes into great detail on the myriad dynamics at work when going into this aspect of Jim Brown’s life – sex, politics, racism, power – all against the background of a culture that has long disregarded and even encouraged violence against women.
Brown admitted to having anger issues, but chafed and sometimes sneered at the notion that he was a chronic abuser of women.
Nonetheless, the more than 30 years of lawsuits against him are “a remarkable stretch that cannot be written off as just an endless series of law-and-order conspiracies, coincidences, or bad luck,” according to Zirin.
“Brown and others saw these as politically motivated attacks designed to bring down a strong Black man.” Even in the absence of convictions for violence against women, there are enough 911 recordings and testimony to show that this is not a fabricated story concocted by people seeking to discredit him.”
This chapter in Jim Brown’s life was “more than a blemish,” according to Rhoden. “It’s basically a blemish on an otherwise spectacular career,” he remarked.
And again another lesson was taught.
“Admire the political stuff, admire [Brown’s] work with gangs,” Rhoden added, “but realise you also had to hold him accountable for this other part.”
“The Fierce Life of an American Hero,” a biography of Jim Brown published in 2006, was titled “The Fierce Life of an American Hero.” Taking Brown’s full measure leaves one nodding in agreement with the concept of a furious existence – strong, often victorious, often significant.