Several years ago, in 1994, to be exact, Robert Allen and I collaborated on the anthology “Brotherman––The Odyssey of Black Men in America.” We both agreed that a section from Jim Brown’s autobiography “Out of Bounds” with Steve Delsohn was absolutely essential. After we both pored over his engrossing book, we decided to use a segment where he talks about others rather than himself. Brown was an extraordinary athlete and on the gridiron, he was peerless with the pigskin tucked under his powerful arms.
By now, most of the news outlets in the civilized world have weighed in on Brown’s remarkable football legacy, the plethora of statistics that only recently have been challenged or broken. It is still inconceivable that he played in 118 games over nine seasons and never missed one. He meted out as much punishment as he took.
No need to repeat here his legendary accomplishments with the Cleveland Browns––and the team’s name was fitting––because it was basically his team. As the media denotes, he was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, and it will take pages to do justice to the man who died on May 18, at 87 in Los Angeles.
Somewhat presciently, Robert and I selected a portion of Brown’s book that focused on his unselfishness, and his magnanimity. More than anyone, Brown was aware that he was a member of a team and benefitted from the strength and agility of his linemen. “I was always much tighter with my offensive linemen than our guys on the defense,” he wrote. “I didn’t know much about the guys on defense. I had to run through those guys every day at practice, and they’d be talking their own talk. My linemen were my lifeblood.”
RELATED: Jim Brown, all-time NFL great and social activist, dead at 87
Once they opened a hole, one that was expanded when Brown blasted through it, there remained but the hopeless and helpless linebackers and safeties. And they had to deal with his speed and power, to say nothing of his menacing straight arm.
Another thing that the mainstream press only gave a passing nod to was Brown’s versatility, particularly as a student-athlete at Syracuse University. To be sure, he excelled on the football field, but he was equally capable on the basketball court, the track field, and most rewardingly as a lacrosse star. During his three years of competition, he amassed an incredible record, and for many authorities of the sport, he was one of the greatest lacrosse players in history. He was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1983. His prowess on the field was so overpowering that they had to change rules about carrying the ball in the racquet.
And while the press will undoubtedly mention his abuse of women––and rightfully so, though he was never convicted of any of these charges of mistreatment––there will probably be nothing said about his admiration for Malcolm X, which he believed was one of the reasons he was blackballed in Hollywood. “Deep in my gut,” he wrote in his book, “I think the primary factor was activism. I was increasingly perceived as a militant. I had spent time with Malcolm X, made no attempt to hide that fact, and Malcolm made many people nervous. Even after Malcolm was killed, many people believed I was a Muslim, despite the fact I was never a Muslim, though I had Muslim friends, and despite the fact that Malcolm himself had broken with the Muslims.”
Unavoidably, and to their credit, most of the obituaries cited Brown’s activism, including most famously his appearance with Muhammad Ali after he was stripped of his title for refusing the draft. That photo with him and Ali with Bill Russell is all he needs to certify his standing among Black Nationalists.
Obviously, Robert and I could have written a book about Jim Brown and his legacy, but that’s not necessary because he chronicled his own stay among us, and no one documentary, collection of film clips, or lengthy obituary can capture his outstanding athletic feats, his political activism––but it’s certainly worth a try.
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