Home » Jim Brown, one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs, has died at age 87

Jim Brown, one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs, has died at age 87

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Jim Brown, one of the NFL's all-time great running backs, has died at age 87 image

This is an old photo of Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown. Brown was an All American at Syracuse in 1956 and NFL Rookie of Year in 1957. He also led the NFL in rushing 8 times, 8-time All Pro in 1957 to 1961 and 1963 to 1965, 3 time MVP in 1958,1963 and 1965 with Cleveland ran for 12,312 yards and scored 126 touchdowns in just 9 seasons.

Jim Brown, a blazingly fast running back and a star of the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s and 60s has died. The Hall of Famer was 87. His wife Monique Brown revealed on Instagram that he passed peacefully last night at our LA home.

To the world he was an a fighter, actor, and sports star.

He was a fantastic and amazing father, grandpa, and husband for his family.
Our souls are ripped apart.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Brown a skilled athlete athlete and one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field. In a statement, he also pointed out his participation in the civil rights movement who became a leader and role model for players to become involved in social projects outside their sport.

In his nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
Brown himself established as one of all time greatest of the game.

But football merely was the start of a life filled with accomplishment and scandal.

A great runner

It was the most beautiful game he ever played Jim Brown said. A mix of speed quickness and cleverness. His skills put him in the Hall of Fame, the first Black player admitted.

For lacrosse.

It seemed odd compared to his defining and deadly sport of football. But it was a credit to Brown’s superb fitness he participated in four sports at Syracuse University. Track and field, basketball, hockey and of course football.

That was the one that stuck.

He told the NFL Network in 2000 he loved how football was a constant test.

In every way, Brown said stamina-wise mentally, guts.

Your limitations are stretched and you have to decide whether you can manage it or not.

Football fans agree Jim Brown dealt with it perhaps better than any running back in the game’s history.

Not just running through

There are defensive guys in the league who have committed themselves, their minds and their bodies to a holy war against Jimmy Brown. None of them yet has won the fight.

With his sleek six foot two inch and 230pound body Brown laughed at the idea of going out of bounds on a play.

But his rare mix of power and speed and quickness meant he didn’t only run through tacklers. He zipped around them and away from them, proven by the long touchdown runs that fill his highlight reel.

Rushing for 100 yards in a game still is a gold standard for running backs.

Throughout his career Brown averaged over a hundred yards per regular season game.

His accomplishment is unique in NFL history.

Other significant Jim Brown career numbers: 5.2 – average yards per carry; 8 – how many times he led the league in rushing during his 9 years; and 0 – the number of games he missed.

Was he the perfect running back? Almost. One hole in his resume was that he didn’t like to block.

The only thing I could say about Jim Brown the late Hall of Fame defensive end.

He might not have been considered the world’s finest blocker.
But who cares about that when you could run and do the things that he could do? Said by Gino Marchetti,

Those things included Brown’s mental approach to the game.

After being tackled, Brown always got up slowly. So defenders never knew, was he hurt, or not?

It was a little bit of playing possum said William Rhoden a long-time sports columnist for the New York Times. “This is it, he’s had it, and he’d slowly get up and then on the next play, would totally vanquish the defense.”

Long before he wrote about Jim Brown, Rhoden loved watching him play as a young NFL fan. But he particularly loved the way Brown left the game, for good.

A proud man gets tough

It was the summer of 1966. Brown was 30, still in his playing prime. The previous year he’d won his third Associated Press, NFL MVP award. Brown also was an aspiring movie actor, and that summer he was in England shooting the World War II film, “The Dirty Dozen.”

When production was delayed, it meant Brown would be late to Cleveland for training camp.

Team owner Art Modell decided to get tough with his star, and said Brown would be fined for days he missed.

So Brown got tough back. He retired.

A few days before his announcement, on the movie set, he sent Modell a letter.

I was very sorry to see you make the statements that you did,” Brown wrote, “because it was not a victory for you or I but for the newspaper men.

Rhoden, who’s African American, loved the defiant message Brown was giving to his team’s owner.

“You’re going to try to do that to me, this proud Black man? Screw you!” Rhoden said, “and that to me, is when his legend began to grow. And it would only increase after that.”

A year after Brown’s sudden retirement, he confirmed his growing legend by organizing what became known as the Cleveland Summit.

In this Sept. 27, 2014, file photo, back row from left, John Wooten, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Bobby Mitchell stand behind Muhammad Ali. In 1967, all five of these men attended “The Cleveland Summit,” an event organized by Brown. It brought together prominent Black athletes of the time as a show of support for Ali, who faced charges after he refused to join the military during the Vietnam War.

Athlete activists

Brown met with other notable Black athletes of the time including basketball greats Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor who was later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar to talk about the problem regarding boxing king Muhammad Ali.

Months before, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and faced charges for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.

The athletes gathered in Cleveland to debate Ali’s stance. But reportedly there was another reason for their meetings. Brown and others potentially had a financial stake in Ali – there was a plan for Ali to fight exhibition matches for U.S. troops and have his charges dropped in exchange.

But Ali said no to the matches.

Still, Brown and the others rallied behind him in a show of unity. And the summit became an important moment in the history of athlete activism.

For the rest of his life Brown would play a major part in that cause.

A different tack

But Jim Brown took a different tack.

He didn’t believe in the power of marching and protest.

But he disagreed with King’s strategy of passive resistance.

I didn’t think that non violence was a solution to the problem of inequality in America, Brown said. So I thought economic development, and a sense of cultural power would be a better way to fight. Because capitalism in America was riding high, and you need resources.”
In 1988, Brown started a foundation called Amer-I-Can. Its mission was to stop gang violence that was tearing apart inner city communities in southern California, his home, and to give young Black people tools to reach those goals of economic development and cultural power.

Brown’s house became the scene of peaceful gang meetings between the notorious Crips and Bloods. Anti-death penalty activist Aqeela Sherrills went to some of the meetings and embraced Brown’s Amer-I-Can message.
You offer me the chance to teach you a new method to doing business and a different way of living your life, Brown commented. And I promise that for the rest of your life you will never have to think about providing for your family or looking after your neighborhood, Sherrills promised.

There was, in Jim Brown’s life however, a troubling irony.

Holding him accountable

Brown effectively preached to others about empowerment and personal responsibility. But he appeared to ignore those ideals in multiple abusive relationships with women.

Between 1965 and 1999, Brown was accused, tried and even jailed once, for multiple incidents of sexual and physical assault. These included the infamous 1968 fight in Hollywood between Brown and a young female model that prompted neighbors to call the police. When officers reached they found the woman lying dazed and injured under a balcony. Brown claims she fell trying to evade police; others say Brown threw her. He was accused of trying to kill someone but the lady opted not to press charges.
Decades later she told filmmaker Spike Lee, doing a documentary on Brown that the football legend in fact pushed her off the balcony.

Through the years Brown would accept some responsibility, but largely would blame the public’s perception of these incidents on what he called inaccurate media accounts.

A lot has to do with things I’ve done, said by Brown. A lot has to do with things I’ve been accused of. But the majority of it refers to the reporting of such events.

Writing in 2018, sports journalist Dave Zirin said “not one conviction of violence against women emerged from any of the [charges against Brown]. Yet in almost all of these cases, Brown was not vindicated by a jury as much as by the women in question, who in nearly every instance refused to bring charges after initially calling the police.”

Zirin writes at length about the many factors at play when delving into this part of Jim Brown’s life – sex, politics, racism, power – all against the backdrop of a society that long ignored and even enabled violence against women.

Brown would acknowledge he had anger problems but chafed and often scoffed at the idea that he was a serial abuser of women.

Yet, the more than 30 years of cases 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,” Zirin wrote.

“Brown and others have seen these as politically motivated attacks attempting to tear down a strong Black man. Even without convictions of violence against women, there are enough 911 tapes and testimonials to see that this is not a fantasy created by those trying to destroy him.”

For Rhoden, this part of Jim Brown’s history was “more than a blemish. It’s basically a blight,” he said, “on an otherwise spectacular career.”

And it was another lesson learned.

“Admire the political stuff, admire [Brown’s] work with gangs,” Rhoden said, “but also realize you had to hold him accountable for this other part.”

A 2006 biography of Jim Brown was titled “The Fierce Life of an American Hero.” Taking the full measure of Brown leaves one nodding at the idea of a fierce life – fierce, often triumphant, often meaningful.

But the hero part? Perhaps not.

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