Despite Jim Brown’s athletic prowess and influence on social activism, Jim Brown’s power is a constant response to the narrow definitions that American society has imposed on black people and, in his case, on black male athletes. born out of the resistance of
The resounding power of No. Jim Brown is the epitome of that.
Brown, who died Thursday at the age of 87, lived a life that was an anthem to self-determination while facing stinging racism. He refused to let others limit him to what he could be. He demanded to be seen fully as a complete human being, recognizing all aspects of himself. In line with that desire, respect for his achievements cannot be adequately expressed without pointing out his deep shortcomings.
But we start here with Brown’s sporting life. Because his career as an athlete was truly unique.
During his college days at Syracuse, Brown dominated the football field like never before. But that’s not all. He lettered in track and field and basketball. And in lacrosse, he represented the United States and was considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
As a running back for the Cleveland Browns, he amassed an astonishing statistic. Through nine seasons, Brown never missed a game. He won the league MVP award three times and won the NFL title once. His 104.3 rushing yards per game average is still a record.
Statistics are only part of his story. Aggressive, hard-line and shrewd, his style of play placed extraordinary demands on the defense. He didn’t mean to do the work for them. Instead of going out of bounds as he turns around the sidelines, he turns back onto the field and boldly knocks down defenders, dealing every part of his strength, speed and 230-pound body to his opponents. compelled to do so.
He made similar demands of America, refusing to be framed and resisting society’s urge to flatten his humanity. Such audacity put an end to his football career.
In 1966, while pursuing a burgeoning career as a Hollywood actor during the off-season, he was filming The Dirty Dozen in England when bad weather delayed production.
This was a time when team owners in professional sports regularly tried to give themselves an edge over their players. That such aggression often fell on black players with extra force was one reason why few players claimed their rights. But Brown was different. When Cleveland owner Art Modelle learned that a movie delay would cause Brown to be late for training camp, he threatened to pay the team’s star running back a fine for each missed day.
Brown didn’t take the threat well. He considered this too gross an insult and decided not to allow the model to profit any further from his services. At age 30, he was still in the prime of his career, finishing an MVP-winning season with 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns. But he refused to be treated as a mere cog in the NFL, which was entering a new era of popularity in the mid-1960s. He held a press conference and retired. He didn’t mean to be forced or disrespected.
Brown’s insistence on resisting power went far beyond making demands solely on his own behalf. He was at the forefront of the wave of athleticism that helped define the sport in the 1960s.
In the winter of 1964, the night Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, Brown met with Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, after the fight. The four spent the night discussing how best to fight racism.
So he called Ali, Bill Russell, Lou Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and other prominent black athletes to Cleveland in the summer of 1967. Ali lost the heavyweight title and was on the verge of imprisonment for refusing his draft and protesting the Vietnam War. Brown and others listened to Ali’s explanation of his intentions and took a bath to cheer on the boxing champion.
Brown became a famous spokesperson for black exaltation. He founded an organization to promote black economic mobility. I thought this was a more powerful way to make a difference than street protests. He founded the “Amer-I-Can Foundation” to help fix the lives of people in gangs and prisons.
What a life And what a statement was made about that life! But perfect heroes don’t exist. Brown continued to refuse to bow to power and continued his sporting conquests, but he was also a flawed man. From the 1960s to the 1990s, he was arrested several times for violent acts, some of which included charges of assaulting a woman.
Although he was never convicted of a serious crime, the charges pointed to problems that had overshadowed him. “I definitely get angry at times, and I’ve vented that anger inappropriately in the past,” he said. Sports Illustrated 2002, before adding a confession in a way that only highlights his shortcomings. “But I did it with both men and women.”
During Hosanna, one should not gloss over the troubling aspects of his life. Through resistance, he demanded to be seen as fully human, to be recognized for all parts of himself, and that is how we must view his death.