NFL legend Jim Brown dead at 87

Jim Brown, still revered by many as the greatest football player who ever lived despite a relatively short nine-year stint as an NFL fullback — walking away from the game in his prime in 1966 to pursue an acting career — and who later became known as a social activist for his involvement in the civil rights movement and his work with inner-city gangs, died Thursday in Los Angeles, his wife Monique announced.

He was 87.

“It is with profound sadness that I announced the passing of my husband, Jim Brown,” Monique wrote in an Instagram post. “He passed peacefully last night at our LA home. To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family, he was a loving and wonderful husband, father and grandfather.

“Our hearts are broken.”

Brown led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons playing for the Cleveland Browns, was voted the league’s MVP three times and was a key member of the Browns’ 1964 NFL championship team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and was named to the NFL’s 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams.

Jim Brown is considered by many to be the greatest NFLer of all time.
Jim Brown is considered by many to be the greatest NFLer of all time.
Jim Brown playing football at Syracuse
Jim Brown playing football at Syracuse.

“It’s impossible to describe the profound love and gratitude we feel for having been a small piece of Jim’s incredible life and legacy,” the Browns wrote in a statement. “We mourn his passing but celebrate the indelible light he brought to the world.”

Brown, who grew up on Long Island, is also recognized as one of the greatest lacrosse players to ever play the game.

But it was a burgeoning career in Hollywood that hastened Brown’s departure from the NFL. Production delays caused by inclement weather in England while filming “The Dirty Dozen” meant that Brown would miss at least the beginning of training camp in the summer of 1966. Team owner Art Modell responded by threatening to fine Brown $100 for each day missed.

Jim Brown in 2020.
Jim Brown in 2020.
Browns running back (32) Jim Brown in action against the St. Louis Cardinals
Browns running back (32) Jim Brown in action against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Brown, who already had said that the 1966 season — the final year of his contract — would be his last, promptly announced his retirement. He was 30 years old.

One day after making that announcement, Brown sat down with Sports Illustrated and presaged what much of the rest of his life might look like.

“I could have played longer,” he told the magazine. “I want more mental stimulation than I would have playing football. I want to have a hand in the struggle that is taking place in our country, and I have the opportunity to do that now. I might not a year from now.”

Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) Visit's His Friend American Football Star & Actor Jim Brown On The Set Of Film 'the Dirty Dozen' Which Was Being Filmed On Location At Beechwood Park School In Markyate Hertfordshire. Original Print Filed In Pkt - Clay (l.p.) 1966
Muhammad Ali visit Jim Brown on the set of ‘The Dirty Dozen.’
Jim Brown
Jim Brown

Later in the interview Brown said he quit “with regret but not sorrow.”

James Nathaniel Brown was born in St. Simons Island, Ga. on Feb. 17, 1936 to Swinton Brown, a professional boxer and gambler, and his wife, Theresa, who worked as a domestic. His father left within weeks of his son’s birth while his mother left Jim behind when he was 2 to find work on Long Island. He would be raised by his great-grandmother until his mother returned when he was 8 — the first time she had seen him since leaving some six years earlier — and moved him to Glen Cove, N.Y.

Brown attended Manhasset High School where he starred in football, basketball, track and field and lacrosse. As a senior he averaged 38 ppg for the basketball team and he was named a high school All-American in lacrosse.

On the football field, Brown averaged 7.4 yards per carry as a sophomore, just over 15 yards per carry as a junior and 14.9 yards per carry as a senior despite being the focus of opposing defenses. He led the football team to its first undefeated season in three decades.

When it came time for college, Brown had scholarship offers from more than 40 schools and it appeared he was headed to Ohio State. But Brown was uneasy about going so far from his comfort zone in Manhasset and a local benefactor suggested he consider Syracuse.

It took Brown until midway through his sophomore season to get meaningful playing time with the Orangemen, as the team was then known, as he dealt with what he saw as the football program’s inherent racism. More than a few times, a frustrated Brown left practice and packed for home. Each time he was talked out of it by people he trusted back in Manhasset. But his time at Syracuse — both on the field and off — left deep scars that didn’t heal for many years.

Jim Brown
Jim Brown
Raquel Welch and Jim Brown
Raquel Welch and Jim Brown

By the time he was finished, Brown had put Syracuse football, virtually unknown outside the East, on the map. In his final game, the 1957 Cotton Bowl against Texas Christian, Brown rushed for 132 yards on 26 carries and scored 21 of his team’s points — he also kicked all the extra points but had one blocked — in a 28-27 loss. He was named the game’s most valuable player.

A unanimous All-America selection, Brown finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and remains the only player elected to the professional football, college football and lacrosse halls of fame. His No. 44 was retired by Syracuse.

Drafted by Cleveland with the sixth pick in the 1957 draft, Brown wasted little time acclimating himself to the NFL. He was the league’s Rookie of the Year and its Most Valuable Player in 1957 when he rushed for 942 yards in a 12-game schedule. It was the first of five consecutive seasons he led the league in rushing. His finest season may have come in 1963 when he led the league with 1,863 yards rushing and in touchdowns with 12 in 14 games.

Jim Brown
Jim Brown
Browns running back Jim Brown (32) in action against the Detroit Lions
Browns running back Jim Brown (32) in action against the Detroit Lions.

At the time of his retirement he was the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards. Brown currently sits in 11th place all time.

He was not as successful in his personal life. Married twice and the father of six children with whom he did not have a relationship for much of his life, Brown was accused five times of violence versus women, some of them his wives or girlfriends. He was found guilty of a crime only once and that was after a 1999 incident when he was convicted of misdemeanor vandalism after the then 63-year-old used a shovel to smash the windows of a car belonging to his 25-year-old wife, Monique.


He was sentenced to a year of domestic violence counseling, 400 hours of community service, $1,800 in fines and three years probation. Brown refused to comply and instead was sentenced to six months in county jail. He was released after four months.

“Much of what the media has written about me and the things with women have been either exaggerated or totally false,” author Mike Freeman quoted Brown as saying in his book “Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero.” “I do think there have been times when I should have been more in control of myself. But a lot of the things that have been said about me in the press have been said only because I’m Jim Brown.

“I treat people with respect and that includes women. … I’m not the violent monster that people claim I am.”

An activist almost since the day he left Syracuse, Brown had become interested and bothered by the plight of blacks in the South and the abject poverty in which so many black Americans were forced to live.

“He was different after Syracuse,’ childhood friend Ed Corley told Freeman. “I think he wanted to be a great football player, but I think he also wanted to change society. He was going to do whatever it took to make things better for his people.”

Jim Brown
Jim Brown

Toward that end, Brown, a member of the Army ROTC while at Syracuse who rose to the rank of captain with the Army Reserve before being honorably discharged, supported Muhammad Ali as he fought his induction into the Army. Brown was the driving force behind what was known as the Cleveland Summit when several prominent black athletes — Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) among them — held a press conference to publicly supported Ali’s cause.

“I felt with Ali taking the position he was taking, and with him losing the crown, and with the government coming at him with everything they had, that we as a body of prominent athletes could get the truth and stand behind Ali and give him the necessary support,” Brown told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2012.

Kanye West (left) and retired professional football player Jim Brown.
Kanye West (left) and retired professional football player Jim Brown.

“Jim Brown really represented achievement for the black community,” said Abdul-Jabbar a few years ago. “He was so good it didn’t matter what color they were they had to recognize him and as the best in his field. That meant a lot to black Americans in the 60s when anything any black person achieved was questioned as to whether it was significant. But there were no question marks about Jim Brown.”

Per: NYP

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