The greatest running back in American football history, Jim Brown, who has died at 87, was one of the greatest athletes of his day, excelling in both football and lacrosse. He left professional football at the peak of his career to pursue acting and became an iconoclastic civil rights activist. But the ferocity that made him a great player and towering figure of black pride was also expressed in repeated accusations of violence against women.

When Brown entered the National Football League in 1957, the running backs were either big wingbacks or smaller, craftier running backs. At 6-foot-2 and 16 6 pounds, Brown was both; big as a fullback, but with the speed, balance and ability to set up his blockers and the power to break through tacklers. His battles with New York Giants linebacker Sam Huff, basically the same size, helped build the NFL’s violent image. When asked how he approached Brown, Huff said, “You hold on and pray for help.”

In his nine seasons with the cleveland browns, Brown won the league rushing title eight times, was a first-team All-Pro eight times, and was voted the league’s most valuable player (MVP) three times. He retired as the league’s rushing leader in his career, and his average of 100-plus yards per rush per game and five yards per carry still stand out.

Jim Brown, left, and Donald Sutherland, far right, in The Dirty Dozen, 1967. Brown left the Cleveland Browns during the making of the film.
Jim Brown, left, and Donald Sutherland, far right, in The Dirty Dozen, 1967. Brown left the Cleveland Browns during the making of the film. Cinematography: MGM/Allstar

In 1964 he began to act, in the west of Río Conchos. In the summer of 1966, while filming The Dirty Dozen in Britain, the shoot spilled over and collided with the start of his team’s training camp. When the owner of the Browns art model announced that he would fine Brown $100 for each day he was absent, a small but face-saving amount, Brown resigned. She then appeared in nine more films in the next three years, including Ice Station Zebra (1968) and 100 Rifles (1969), in which her love scene with raquel welch broke the old Hollywood rules against sexual contact between whites and blacks.

In 1964, Brown saw Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight crown. After the fight, he met up with Clay, singer Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, an event dramatized in the 2020 Regina King film. one night in miami.

Three years later, Brown convened a summit in Cleveland, which was attended by sports stars, including basketball players. bill russell and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) supported Ali in his position against being drafted into the Vietnam War. Held at the headquarters of Brown’s Black Economic Union, he began to encourage self-improvement in the black community. He thought of civil rights in terms of “green power” (driven by money), explaining that in 1963 he felt that Martin Luther King was “a great man… but I for one will not march down the street and kneel.” and I will pray for my rights.” . That’s not my shit.”

A press conference at a gathering of sports stars in 1967 to consider the case brought by Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) for refusing the Vietnam draft.  Jim Brown is seated in the front row, second from the right, with, from the left, Bill Russell, Cassius Clay and Lew Alcindor.
A press conference at a gathering of sports stars in 1967 to consider the case brought by Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) for refusing the Vietnam draft. Jim Brown is seated in the front row, second from the right, with, from the left, Bill Russell, Cassius Clay and Lew Alcindor. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

This self-confidence was part of his upbringing. Brown was born on St Simons Island, Georgia, a close-knit community founded by freed slaves. His father, Swinton “Sweet Sue” Brown, was a boxer who left the family, and young James was raised by his great-grandmother Nora, whom he called Mama, and by his grandmother and aunt, while his mother, Theresa ( nee Powell), moved north to find domestic work on Long Island, New York.

Jim joined her at the age of eight and became a star athlete at Manhasset High School, but because “she was more involved with her boyfriends than me,” he moved in with his girlfriend’s family and he found sports coaches who provided him with role models.

More than 40 colleges wanted him to play football, even though he had set a Long Island record in basketball averaging 38 points per game, but it was a local lawyer, Ken Molloy, a former lacrosse star at Syracuse University. , who took him there. . What Brown didn’t know was that his “scholarship” was actually funded by Molloy and other local supporters, because Syracuse football coach Ben Schwartzwalder didn’t want “another black person on my team, that’s too much trouble.”

Jim Brown, left, with, from left, Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch and Michael Forrest in 100 Rifles, 1969.
Jim Brown, left, with, from left, Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch and Michael Forrest in 100 Rifles, 1969. Photography: ScreenProd/Photononstop/Alamy

Brown eventually earned a scholarship, but battled Schwartzwalder for respect and playing time until his talent became too obvious to ignore. Meanwhile, he found the support of lacrosse coach Roy Simmons, and his ability to hold the net of the lacrosse stick against his chest, holding the ball tight where it couldn’t be pushed aside, forced a rule change. of the game. He starred on the basketball team and competed in track while playing lacrosse, often running between games. Despite limited practice, in 1955 Brown finished fifth at the US decathlon national championships.

The Cleveland Browns took Brown with the sixth pick in the 1957 NFL draft. In his ninth game he rushed for a league-record 237 yards. The following year, he broke the single-season rushing mark, scored 17 touchdowns and won his first MVP award. He broke that single-season mark five years later.

Brown’s film career turned to blaxploitation, and he was often teamed with former NFL stars such as Fred “the Hammer” Williamson and Bernie Casey. When that market dried up, he turned to television, later revisiting blaxploitation in well-known homages like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and Original Gangstas (1996). He played a boxer who helped save Earth in Mars Attacks! (1996) and coach in Oliver Stone’s soccer drama any sunday (1999). He aired commentary on soccer, boxing, and ultimate wrestling. He also founded Amer-I-Can, an organization that addresses gang violence by dealing directly with the gangs themselves.

Jim Brown with Al Pacino in Oliver Stone's soccer drama Any Given Sunday, 1999.
Jim Brown with Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s soccer drama Any Given Sunday, 1999. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

In the 1978 film Fingers, directed by James Toback (who in 1971 had written Jim, a lurid memoir about life with Brown while writing an article for Esquire magazine), Harvey Keitel loves Tisa Farrow, who is involved with the owner of a night club, Dreems. played by Brown, who arranges a threesome with her and tania roberts, as Keitel watches. Then, nonchalantly, she snaps their heads together. This seemed like a crude comment on Brown’s own relationships with women.

A series of rape and assault charges against him have been resolved with either an acquittal or the victim’s refusal to press charges. These included the 1968 case when an argument between Brown and her girlfriend Eva Bohn-Chin, which began when she discovered her affair with feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem, ended when Bohn-Chin fell off a balcony. johnnie cochranlater OJ Simpson’s attorney, got a 1985 rape lawsuit against him dismissed.

Jim Brown, right, with Tom Jones and Annette Bening in Mars Attacks!, 1996.
Jim Brown, right, with Tom Jones and Annette Bening in Mars Attacks!, 1996. Photography: Warner Bros./Allstar

Brown’s only convictions came in 1978, when he was jailed for one day and fined $500 for strangling a friend in an argument over golf ball placement during a game; and in 1999 when, during a fight with his second wife, Monique, he broke the windows of his car. He was found guilty of criminal damage to the automobile, fined, and sentenced to counseling and community service.

He wrote two autobiographies and was the subject of a Spike Lee television documentary Jim Brown: All-American (2002) and many books, including Dave Zirin’s Last Man Standing (2018) and Mike Freeman’s pre-# . MeToo Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero (2006). Sportswriter Howard Bryant noted that “while Jim Brown is heroic, he is not a hero.”

Brown is survived by Monique (nee Gunthrop), whom he married in 1997, his son, Aris, and daughter, Morgan, and two sons, James Jr and Kevin, and a daughter, Kim, from his first marriage, to Sue Jones. , who divorced him in 1968.

James Nathaniel Brown, athlete, actor, and activist, born February 17, 1936; Died May 18, 2023

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