For all his athletic prowess, all of the heft he dropped at his social activism, Jim Brown’s energy sprang from his unyielding resistance to the slim definitions imposed by American society on its Black residents and, in his case, Black male athletes.
The resounding energy of no. That is what Jim Brown embodied.
Brown, who died Thursday at 87, lived a life that turned an ode to self-determination within the face of stinging racism. He refused to be restricted by what others stated he may develop into. He demanded to be seen in his fullness, as a whole human being, with all sides of himself acknowledged. In conserving with that want, paying homage to his achievements can’t be adequately finished with out noting his deep faults.
But we begin right here with Brown’s life in sports activities, for his profession as an athlete was actually distinctive.
In school at Syracuse, Brown dominated on the soccer area as few ever have. But that isn’t all. He lettered in monitor and basketball. And in lacrosse, he turned an all-American and was thought-about one of many biggest to ever play the game.
As a working again for the Cleveland Browns, he racked up mind-bending statistics. In his 9 seasons, Brown by no means missed a sport. He received three league MVP awards and an NFL title. His common of 104.3 dashing yards a sport remains to be a report.
Statistics inform solely a part of his story. His type of play — aggressive, hard-nosed and canny — made a singular demand on defenses. He was not going to do the job for them. Instead of stepping out of bounds when veering close to the sidelines, he turned upfield and dared defenders to deliver him down, forcing the opposition to take care of each little bit of his power, velocity and 230-pound physique.
He made comparable calls for on America, refusing to be boxed in, resisting society’s impulse to flatten his humanity. Such boldness ended his soccer profession.
In 1966, as he pursued a budding profession as a Hollywood actor throughout the low season, he was filming “The Dirty Dozen” in England when poor climate slowed manufacturing.
This was an period during which crew homeowners in skilled sports activities repeatedly sought to exert dominance over gamers. That such aggression so usually fell on Black gamers with additional pressure was a part of the explanation that almost all didn’t push for his or her rights. But Brown was not like most gamers. When Art Modell, Cleveland’s proprietor, came upon that the movie delays would trigger Brown to be late to coaching camp, he threatened to dole out fines to his crew’s star working again for each day missed.
Brown didn’t take properly to that menace. He thought-about it an insult so extreme that he determined he wouldn’t enable Modell to profit any longer from his providers. He was nonetheless properly within the prime of his profession at age 30, coming off an MVP season during which he had rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns. But he refused to be handled like simply one other cog within the equipment of the NFL, which was rising within the mid-Sixties into a brand new period of recognition. He referred to as a information convention and retired. He was not going to be pushed round or disrespected.
Brown’s insistence on resisting energy prolonged far past making calls for merely for himself. He was on the forefront within the wave of athlete activism that helped outline sports activities within the Sixties.
There Brown was, within the winter of 1964, on the night Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, assembly after the struggle with Malcolm X, the singer Sam Cooke and Clay, who later turned often known as Muhammad Ali. The 4 males spent the night time discussing the methods they may greatest struggle racism.
There he was, in the summertime of 1967, summoning Ali, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor (the longer term Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and different distinguished Black athletes to Cleveland. Ali had misplaced his heavyweight title and confronted imprisonment for protesting the Vietnam War by refusing to be drafted into the navy. Brown and the others listened to Ali clarify his intentions, and then bathed the boxing champion in assist.
Brown turned a widely known spokesperson for Black uplift. He based a company selling Black financial mobility, which he noticed as a extra highly effective solution to make change than avenue protests. He began the Amer-I-Can Foundation, which helps folks in gangs and in prisons straighten out their lives.
What a life. And what a press release made with that life. But there are not any excellent heroes. For all of the occasions he refused to bend to energy and all of his athletic conquest, Brown was additionally a flawed man. From the Sixties to the Nineteen Nineties, he was arrested a number of occasions for violent conduct, with a few of these instances involving allegations that he battered ladies.
He was by no means convicted of a serious crime, however the accusations pointed to issues that shadowed him. “I can undoubtedly get offended, and I’ve taken that anger out inappropriately prior to now,” he advised Sports Illustrated in 2002, earlier than including to the admission in a approach that solely underscored his faults. “But I’ve finished so with each males and ladies.”
Amid the hosannas, the troubling points of his life shouldn’t be glossed over. Through his resistance, he demanded to be seen as totally human, all elements of himself acknowledged, and that’s how we should view him in dying.