Originally posted at the https://theathletic.com
By Zac Jackson May 19, 2023
Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back, actor and activist who was commonly referred to as “The Greatest” for decades after his retirement from football, died Thursday night. He was 87.
Brown ran with a rare blend of power and speed in nine NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns, eight of which he finished as the NFL’s leading rusher. He was listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and had a 32-inch waist during his playing days. He was bigger and faster than most of those charged with trying to tackle him, and he tended to run to — and through — collisions, rather than away from them.
“On behalf of the entire NFL family,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We extend our condolences to Monique and their family. Jim Brown was a gifted athlete — one of the most dominant players to ever step on a field — but also a cultural figure who helped promote change.”
In his 1989 autobiography, “Jim Brown: Out of Bounds,” Brown wrote, “The key in the NFL is to hit a man so hard, so often, he doesn’t want to play anymore.”
Brown generally dominated even though he was the focal point the defensive game plan in every game of his career. A three-time NFL MVP, Brown is the only running back in NFL history to average over 100 yards per game for his career. He finished his career with 12,312 rushing yards, an NFL record until Walter Payton broke it in 1984. He’s still the only player to have led the NFL in all-purpose yards five times.
“Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL. He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history. Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today. So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement.
“His commitment to making a positive impact for all of humanity off the field is what he should also be known for. In the time we’ve spent with Jim, especially when we first became a part of the Browns, we learned so much from him about the unifying force sports can be and how to use sport as a vehicle for change while making a positive impact in the community,” The Haslams said. “Jim broke down barriers just as he broke tackles. He fought for civil rights, brought athletes from all different sports together to use their platform for good. Many thought Jim retired from football too soon, but he always did it his way. ”
He walked away from football after the 1965 season, retiring at age 29 from the set of “The Dirty Dozen” in London with a movie tank as a backdrop. He’d just won the NFL’s MVP award but had squabbled publicly with Browns owner Art Modell and had also signed a three-movie deal with Paramount that paid him more than he was making in the NFL.
“I knew when you went from Sam Huff to Raquel Welch, it wasn’t exactly bad shit,” said Brown, who had a love scene with Welch in “100 Rifles.”
Brown never missed a game in his career, but he never went back to the football field. He continued to pursue an acting career through the 1970s, appearing in dozens of films, and later did some TV work. In 1988, he founded the Amer-I-Can program designed to help troubled youth, prisoners and gang members in Cleveland and Los Angeles develop life skills to turn their lives around. He often used his public platform to speak out against racism and was never shy to share his opinion.
“I want more mental stimulation,” he said at his retirement press conference. “I have a hand in the struggle of what is happening in our country and I have an opportunity to do that now.”
In 1966, he created the Negro Industrial Economic Union to help Black-owned businesses. On June 4, 1967, he organized what came to be known as the Cleveland Summit to support Muhammad Ali after Ali was stripped of his heavyweight titles for refusing to be drafted by the military during the Vietnam War. Ali was facing intense public scrutiny and the possibility of prison when Brown invited a number of prominent Black athletes to his Cleveland headquarters, including Boston Celtics star Bill Russell and UCLA center Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
“I felt with Ali taking the position he was taking, and with him losing the crown, and with the government coming at him with everything they had, that we as a body of prominent athletes could get the truth and stand behind Ali and give him the necessary support,” Brown told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2012.
Brown’s post-football career also included allegations of violence. He was jailed in 1978 for beating up a golf partner, in 1986 for allegedly beating his fianceé (she eventually refused to press charges) and in 2002 after he smashed his wife’s car windows with a shovel. Brown chose a six-month jail term instead of court-ordered domestic violence counseling and community service. Brown was charged with a number of other crimes against women but he was never convicted.
The best player in Browns history maintained an on-again, off-again relationship with the franchise early in its new era, but in 2013, he officially took on a special advisor’s role to Jimmy and Dee Haslam. Though he lived in Los Angeles, Brown was semi-regularly seen in recent years on a golf cart at Browns’ practices and other team events. He usually attended the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio.
Brown averaged 104.3 rushing yards per game in his career, still the most in NFL history by nearly 5 yards. Brown still has six of the seven most productive rushing seasons in Browns history. The Browns played 12 games a year in Brown’s first four years and 14 games in his last five. Despite that, no other Cleveland running back topped 1,300 yards in a season until Jamal Lewis did it in 2007.
In 1971, Brown became the first of three former Browns running backs to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bobby Mitchell, a running back who also played wide receiver because his four years in Cleveland coincided with Brown’s, was inducted in 1983. Leroy Kelly was inducted in 1994 after making six Pro Bowls and twice leading the NFL in rushing. For perspective on just how dominant Brown was, Kelly had 74 career rushing touchdowns — 32 fewer than Brown had in his nine seasons, eight of which ended with Brown being named a first-team All-Pro.
“When Jim Brown’s name was announced in a room, other Hall of Famers stood and applauded him,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said. “His persona has stood the test of time — a fearless and dominant football player. Jim will always be remembered as one of pro football’s greatest individuals. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s wife, Monique, and their entire family. The Hall of Fame will honor his legacy for years to come.”
Brown had a pair of 17-touchdown seasons rushing, in 1958 and again in 1965. During that 1958 season, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Glenn Holtzman told Sports Illustrated that tackling Brown was like tackling a locomotive. “Fast as the fastest, hard as the hardest,” Holtzman said. “He gets off to the quickest start of any big man I’ve ever seen.”
Brown was born in tiny and segregated St. Simons Island, Ga. He moved to Long Island at age 8 and took up football while attending Manhasset High School, where he averaged 39.6 points per game in his lone season of high school basketball. He started at Syracuse University without a football scholarship, and though he soon became a football star, he also was a standout on Syracuse’s lacrosse, track and basketball teams. Brown is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
“Jim Brown is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes to ever wear Orange,” said Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud. “Jim was a four-sport athlete at Syracuse who was an All-American in both football and lacrosse. An NFL legend, he set numerous records, won countless awards and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, among others. He epitomized Syracuse University’s deep commitment to military service having been commissioned as a second lieutenant through Army ROTC and continuing his military service in the Army Reserves while playing in the NFL. He went on to be a successful actor, tireless advocate for social justice and one of Syracuse’s proudest ambassadors. I extend my deepest condolences to Monique, his family and all who knew, loved and admired him.”
The Browns, then coached and run by Hall of Famer Paul Brown, selected Jim Brown in the first round of the 1957 draft. In the ninth game of his rookie season, Jim Brown set an NFL single-game record that would stand for 40 years when he ran for 237 yards against the Rams.
“To this day, I remember being a little kid and watching Jim Brown carry the football on Sunday afternoons,” said native Northeast Ohioan and former University of Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, a 2022 College Football Hall of Fame inductee. “His dominance was something I never forgot. As I got older and worked in the college game around the country, I always remained a Browns fan because I’ll always remember being 9 or 10 years old and just being in awe of the way he’d turn a simple pitch into a big gain. Jim Brown was larger than life on that little TV screen.”
(Top photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)
originally posted at ; https://theathletic.com/4535558/2023/05/19/jim-brown-dead/