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 slender 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 turn out to be. He demanded to be seen in his fullness, as a whole human being, with all sides of himself acknowledged. In preserving with that want, paying homage to his achievements can’t be adequately performed 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 faculty at Syracuse, Brown dominated on the soccer subject as few ever have. But that’s not all. He lettered in observe and basketball. And in lacrosse, he turned an all-American and was thought of one of many biggest to ever play the game.
As a operating again for the Cleveland Browns, he racked up mind-bending statistics. In his 9 seasons, Brown by no means missed a recreation. He gained three league MVP awards and an NFL title. His common of 104.3 speeding yards a recreation remains to be a document.
Statistics inform solely a part of his story. His fashion 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 carry him down, forcing the opposition to take care of each little bit of his power, pace 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 by which workforce house owners in skilled sports activities frequently sought to exert dominance over gamers. That such aggression so usually fell on Black gamers with further pressure was a part of the rationale that the majority didn’t push for his or her rights. But Brown was not like most gamers. When Art Modell, Cleveland’s proprietor, discovered that the movie delays would trigger Brown to be late to coaching camp, he threatened to dole out fines to his workforce’s star operating again for daily missed.
Brown didn’t take nicely to that risk. He thought of it an insult so extreme that he determined he wouldn’t enable Modell to profit any longer from his providers. He was nonetheless nicely within the prime of his profession at age 30, coming off an MVP season by 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 known 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 of 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 combat with Malcolm X, the singer Sam Cooke and Clay, who later turned often known as Muhammad Ali. The 4 males spent the evening discussing the methods they might greatest combat racism.
There he was, in the summertime of 1967, summoning Ali, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor (the long run Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and different distinguished Black athletes to Cleveland. Ali 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 help.
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 technique 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 an announcement made with that life. But there are not any good heroes. For all of the instances he refused to bend to energy and all of his athletic conquest, Brown was additionally a flawed man. From the Sixties to the Nineties, he was arrested a number of instances for violent habits, with a few of these circumstances involving allegations that he battered ladies.
He was by no means convicted of a significant crime, however the accusations pointed to issues that shadowed him. “I can positively get indignant, and I’ve taken that anger out inappropriately previously,” he informed Sports Illustrated in 2002, earlier than including to the admission in a approach that solely underscored his faults. “But I’ve performed so with each males and ladies.”
Amid the hosannas, the troubling elements of his life shouldn’t be glossed over. Through his resistance, he demanded to be seen as absolutely human, all components of himself acknowledged, and that’s how we should view him in dying.