Jim Brown, who was esteemed for his football accomplishments and social activism, has died at 87.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my husband, Jim Brown,” his wife Monique said in an Instagram post on Brown’s page. “He passed away peacefully last night at our LA home.”
Brown, a unanimous NFL Hall of Famer, distinguished himself on the gridiron and Hollywood’s big and small screens. Brown starred in over 30 movies, most notably “The Dirty Dozen,” “Any Given Sunday,” “Three the Hard Way” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.”
Brown’s ‘Watershed Moment’ of Athlete Activism
However, Brown was one of the few prominent professional athletes who advocated for civil rights and spoke out about racial issues during the 1960s.
Brown founded the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, later known as the Black Economic Union, which provided resources and programs for minority businesses and homeownership opportunities for minorities.
Brown also played a crucial role in “a watershed moment” for the racial awareness of Black athletes.
On June 4, 1967, he invited prominent athletes like Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to join Muhammad Ali at the Negro Industrial and Economic Union offices.
The gathering is known as the “Cleveland Summit” or “Muhammad Ali Summit.”
The meeting occurred about a month after Ali refused to be drafted into the U.S. military. It was a show of support for the boxer, who, by this time, was one of the most hated and reviled men in the country.
Ali chose not to be inducted into the military due to his religious beliefs, as he had become a member of the Nation of Islam. In a story that appeared in the Chicago Defender the next day, Ali declared, “There’s nothing new to say” after the summit.
In that same article, Brown remarked, “We heard his views and know that he is completely sincere in his belief.”
“His position is completely in accord with his religious belief,” he added.
More Than a One-of-a-Kind Running Back
There are many chapters to Brown’s life, but football was where he truly distinguished himself as a singular force.
Legendary sportswriter Red Smith boiled down Brown’s athletic abilities into one memorable sentence: “For mercurial speed, airy nimbleness, and explosive violence in one package of undistilled evil, there is no other like Mr. Brown.”
Indeed, he was an unstoppable force, blazing a record of accomplishment in the NFL that remains unsurpassed — nine Pro Bowl selections in each of his nine seasons, a unanimous first-team all-NFL pick in eight seasons.
When he retired at age 30, at the peak of his career, “he left behind a record book clogged with Jim Brown notations,” states his Pro Football Hall of Fame profile.
“Brown was more than just a one-of-a-kind running back. He caught passes, returned kickoffs, and even threw three touchdown passes.”
One legendary Chicago Bears running back had this to say about Brown: “I’ve said many times, and I will always say, Jim Brown is the best,” Hall of Famer Gale Sayers once said, “and he will still be the best long after all his records are broken.”
Brown’s Off-the-Field Issues
Brown was great on the field, but the reports of his off-field behavior were alarming. He was arrested about a half-dozen times, mostly for assaults against women.
In June 1999, Brown’s wife Monique called 911 and said that her husband had smashed her car with a shovel and threatened to kill her. However, she recanted her story during the trial. Brown was acquitted of making domestic threats but convicted of misdemeanor vandalism. When he refused to attend domestic violence counseling, he was sentenced to six months in jail.
Elder Statesman to Younger Generations
Nevertheless, Brown remained esteemed for his athletic accomplishments and civil rights activism, especially among athletes inspired by his outspokenness.
After police officers killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the summer of 2014, many professional athletes spoke out.
NBA stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving wore T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe,” Garner’s last words before he succumbed to a police officer’s chokehold on a Staten Island street in New York.
Brown praised them for bringing attention to the cases of Brown and Garner.
It should be noted that while Brown “appreciated” former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality and for the equal treatment of racial minorities, he was critical of him taking a knee during the national anthem.
“I’m going to give you the real deal: I’m an American,” Brown said in an interview with ThePostGame, “I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem.”
Brown is survived by Monique and their child. He also has three children from a previous marriage.
I was too young to remember Jim Brown’s playing days, but I knew his legacy. One of the greatest football players ever, he was also an actor and activist – speaking out on civil rights, and pushing other Black athletes to do the same. Our thoughts are with Jim’s wife Monique, his…
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 19, 2023
Jim Brown Forever 🧡🤎♾️
Legend. Leader. Activist. Visionary.
It’s impossible to describe the profound love and gratitude we feel for having the opportunity to be a small piece of Jim’s incredible life and legacy. We mourn his passing, but celebrate the indelible light he… pic.twitter.com/F2rrTUnsc1
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 19, 2023