NFL’s all-time great running back, social activist Jim Brown dies at 87
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the unstoppable running back who retired at the height of his glittering career to become an actor as well as a prominent civil rights activist in the 1960s, has died. He was 87 years old.
A Browns family spokeswoman said he passed away peacefully at his Los Angeles home on Thursday evening with his wife, Monique, by his side.
One of the greatest players in football history and one of the games’ first superstars, Brown was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1965 and broke the league’s record books during a a short career spanning from 1957 to 1965.
Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to pursue acting. He appeared in over 30 films, including Any Given Sunday and The Dirty Dozen.
An unstoppable runner blessed with power, speed and stamina, Brown’s arrival sparked the growing popularity of games on television.
As black Americans fought for equality, Brown used her platform and her voice to advance their cause.
In 1967, Brown organized a meeting in Cleveland of the nation’s top black athletes, including Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to support boxer Muhammad Alis in his fight against the war in Vietnam.
Later, he worked to combat gang violence in Los Angeles and founded Amer-I-Can, a program to help disadvantaged inner-city youth and ex-convicts.
On the field, there was no one like Brown, who would blast would-be tacklers, refusing to let a man put him down before sprinting away from linebackers and defensive backs. He was also famous for using a stiff arm to take out defenders in the open field or push them back like they were rag dolls.
My arms were like my protectors and my weapons, Brown said during an interview with NFL Films.
Indeed, Brown was unlike any back before him, and some believe there has never been a better player than Cleveland’s incomparable number 32. around and through opponents, fighting for every yard, dragging down multiple defenders or finding holes where none seemed to exist.
After Brown was tackled, he slowly got up and walked even more slowly towards the huddle, then towered over the defense as he won the ball back.
Off the court, Brown was a controversial figure.
While he had a soft spot for those in need and his generosity changed lives, he was also arrested half a dozen times, mostly for hitting women.
In June 1999, Brown’s wife, Monique, called 911, saying Brown had smashed her car with a shovel and threatened to kill her. During the trial, Monique Brown recanted. Jim Brown was acquitted of a domestic threatening charge but convicted of vandalism. The Los Angeles judge sentenced Brown to six months in prison for refusing to take domestic violence counseling.
He also feuded with Browns coach Paul Brown and later team management, despite playing his entire career in Cleveland.
When his playing days came to an end, Brown left for Hollywood and eventually settled there. Brown informed Cleveland coach Blanton Collier of his retirement while the team was in training camp and he was filming The Dirty Dozen in England.
Among his films were 100 Rifles, Mars Attacks! Spike Lees He Got Game, Oliver Stones Any Given Sunday and the satire Im Gonna Git You Sucka, in which he parodies the blaxploitation genre. In 2002, Brown was the subject of the Lees HBO documentary Jim Brown: All-American.
In recent years, Brown’s relationship with the Browns was inconsistent. He served as an advisor to owner Randy Lerner and was hired to advise the team’s younger players. However, in 2010, Brown parted ways with the team after having his role reduced by new team president Mike Holmgren. Brown felt offended by the perceived demotion when the club unveiled a ring of honor inside their city center stadium, Brown did not attend the ceremony in protest.
Brown was an eight-time All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl in each of his nine years in the league. When Brown left the game at age 30, he held league records for yards (12,312) and touchdowns (126).
And despite his murderous style, Browns never missed a game, playing 118 straight.
He said to me, ‘Make sure when someone tackles you they remember how much it hurts,’ Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey said. He lived by this philosophy and I have always followed this advice.
A star of two sports at Syracuse, some say he’s the best lacrosse player in NCAA history, Brown endured countless racist taunts while playing at the virtually all-white school at the era. Still, he was an All-American in both sports, leading the nation in scoring and a literate in basketball.
Brown was the sixth overall pick in the 1957 draft, joining a team that regularly played for the title. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year that season.
Running behind an offensive line with Hall of Fame tackles Lou Groza and Mike McCormack, Brown set a league mark with 1,527 yards and scored 17 touchdowns on his way to the league’s Most Outstanding Player award, precursor to MVP in 1958. Over the next three seasons, he never ran for less than 1,257 yards before picking up just 996 in 1962.
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