During his famous life, Jim Brown was praised for his community activism and condemned for his mistreatment of women.
But no one questions his incredible prowess on the field of professional football or his subsequent career in Hollywood during the racially charged upheaval of the 1960s as one of the film industry’s few black male stars.
Considered by some sports analysts the greatest football player in the history of the game, Brown became a Hall of Fame running back for the Cleveland Browns and used his celebrity status to fight for equal rights at a time when The racial divide was widening. deep South.
From his fight against racial discrimination in the 1950s to his development of programs to end gang violence in the 1980s, Brown set an early standard for being more than just a talented athlete.
As a scholar of African American studies, it is my belief that Brown’s death on May 19, 2023 at the age of 87 calls for renewed questions about the role that today’s athletes play in today’s political and social debates. I should fulfill and should fulfill.
Brown’s first public act of activism
Unlike later black superstars such as OJ Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Forrest, Brown was unafraid of potential financial pitfalls and stood up for himself and, by extension, all black men.
That audacity became apparent when Brown walked away from football in 1966 to pursue another acting career in Hollywood, a decision inspired by the actions of Art Modell, Brown’s boss.
Angered that Brown was in England filming the “Dirty Dozen” instead of practicing with the team, Modelo threatened to issue Brown a $100 daily fine unless he returned.
Brown’s response was unequivocal.
In a letter to Modell, Brown wrote: “You must realize that we are both men and that my manhood is as important to me as your manhood is to you.”
His retirement from football in July 1966 was shocking.
As a young man who wanted to play professional football, he could not understand why Brown voluntarily walked away from the game at age 30 and at the peak of his career.
Little did he know at the time that his sudden retirement was a form of activism to be himself.
Brown said the same thing in his letter to Modell.
“This decision is final,” wrote Brown, “and is made solely for the future I want for myself, my family, and if it’s not nonsense, my race.”
I became aware of Brown’s activism when I began studying sports as a schoolboy and realized how unique Brown was at the time and compared to other modern-day superstars who used to protest racial inequality. Rarely did they risk their livelihood.
In June 1967, a year after his retirement, Brown organized a Cleveland summit focused on Muhammad Ali and his religiously motivated refusal to join the US military and fight in the Vietnam War.
For his refusal, Ali was stripped of his boxing title and faced a $10,000 fine and five years in prison. But he still declined the government’s proposal to restrict his military activity to boost the morale of the US military by not performing boxing training bouts and combat duty on military bases.
To show his support for Ali and persuade him to accept the government’s offer, Brown brought together some of today’s top black athletes and various politicians, including Bill Russell Lew Alcindor—who would later be named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. – Known as Bobby Mitchell, Willie Davis and later -Cleveland Mayor. Carl Stokes.
“I felt that with Ali taking the position he was taking, and with him losing the crown, and the government coming at him with everything, that we as a body of prominent athletes should not face the truth. Can take Ali out and back down. And give him the assistance he needs,” Brown told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in 2012.
In my opinion, never before, and certainly not since, has there been such a significant gathering of athletes. Although the group was unable to persuade Ali to go against her religious beliefs, the meeting sent a powerful message that black people were united and were not afraid to stand up to a black person considered an outcast by the US government. Later Ali was sent to jail.
Brown told The Associated Press in 2016, “Everybody had taken a huge risk of losing everything by getting together with him.” Do it for one person”.
Based on Ali’s genuine candidness about his religious beliefs, Brown said the men became “a group” and decided to “support him to the end”.
a flawed appearance
As a sports and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, I often saw Brown at galas, some held at her home. Several years ago, I spent a day with him at American, the organization he founded in the 1980s that focuses on gang members and ex-incarcerated men and women.
In both scenarios, Brown commanded universal respect, and to say he had a presence doesn’t do him justice.
Part of that respect stemmed from Brown’s public admission that he was flawed.
In his 1989 book “Out of Bounds” he wrote about a domestic abuse case he was involved in: “The hardest thing I ever did to him was slap him. I’ve slapped other women too. . … I don’t think a man should slap a woman.”
Greg Doherty/Getty Images
Obviously, some of Brown’s lapses were unforgivable. But to me, Brown offered a rare glimpse of a proud black man who was willing to give up everything to stay true to his own principles.
The last time I saw Brown was during the 2023 Super Bowl festivities in Phoenix. Despite his weaknesses, the crowded rooms were still parted to make room for him.
No one invaded Jim Brown’s place without permission.