Jim Brown, athlete, actor, activist
*Jim Brown was born on this date in 1936. He was an African-American football player, actor and civil rights advocate. From Saint Simons, Ga. He was the son of Swinton and Theresa Brown.
He came the New York to live with his mother, a domestic; first in Great Neck and then on Lee Avenue in Manhasset, Long Island. Brown attended Plandome Road Junior High, where his speed and strength through high school helped him dominate any sport. Many say his best game was lacrosse. By the time he was a senior, his athletic prowess was such that the Yankees offered him a minor-league contract. Brown switched from lacrosse to baseball in the spring to test himself in the sport.
After pitching and playing first base with some success, he decided his skills wouldn't get him to the major leagues so he sent his regrets to Casey Stengel. Ken Molloy, a Manhasset attorney and later a State Supreme Court judge in Nassau County, steered Brown to his alma mater, Syracuse University. But the coaching staffs were cool to the idea of a Black athlete in the early 1950s and did not offer a scholarship. Molloy rounded up enough money and obtained a promise from the school that it would put Brown on scholarship if he were as good as advertised.
Brown emerged as the greatest athlete in Syracuse history. As a senior, Brown scored 43 points in a football game against Colgate, was a unanimous All-American at running back, and was voted the MVP of the Cotton Bowl and an All-America choice in 1956. He was the Cleveland Browns' No. 1 draft pick in 1957 and the NFL's leading rusher in eight of his nine NFL seasons. He was named to the All-NFL team eight times, the leagues Most Valuable Player in 1958 and '65, Rookie of the Year in 1957 and played in nine straight Pro Bowls. His 5.22 average per rushing attempt is an NFL record.
In 1966 Brown starred in the box office hit The Dirty Dozen. Shooting for The Dirty Dozen was repeatedly delayed, and ultimately conflicted with football training camp. It was then that Brown abruptly announced his retirement from football. He was 30 years old and at the height of his game. For some years after Brown retired from football he continued to win major film roles in works such as Dark of the Sun, Ice Station Zebra, and 100 Rifles. Brown's movie career was only a memory by the early eighties, his ten-year publicity contract with Pepsi-Cola went un-renewed,... and he found himself hustling Celebrity Bowling tournaments on TV for $20,000 paydays.
Brown admitted in People that his numerous relationships with women led him astray for a time. "I've done things I'm not particularly proud of," he said in Esquire, "but at least I'm honest enough to talk about them." He founded his own production company, Ocean Productions, to encourage minority participation in movie making. Also Brown has been no stranger to the field of public service. As early as his playing days in Cleveland, he founded the Black Economic Union (BEU), which used professional athletes as facilitators in the establishment of Black-run enterprises, urban athletic clubs, and youth motivation programs. The BEU eventually folded, but Brown took his ideas to the Coors Golden Door program and Jobs Plus.
In 1986, he founded a new endeavor, Vital Issues, aimed at teaching life management skills and personal growth techniques to inner-city gang members and prison inmates. By 1989, Vital Issues had evolved into Amer-I-Can. Brown conducts sessions of Amer-I-Can from his home in the hills above Los Angeles. In 1992, Amer-I-Can won more than a million dollars in grant money to expand its programs into cities such as San Francisco and Cleveland. While he may not be the only athlete to reach out to others less fortunate than himself, Brown urges his peers to do more than "make gestures" when facing society's ills.
In due course, Brown does not want to be seen as yet another wealthy athlete who made his way in the world through his physical ability. "I was a highly paid, over-glamorized gladiator," he told the Washington Post. "The decision-makers are the men who own, not the ones who play. I was never under an illusion as to who was the boss." 2002 brought legal problems to Brown. He refused to take court-ordered counseling and community service for vandalizing his wife’s car in 1999. The result is a 180-day misdemeanor jail term in Los Angeles.
African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.
Image: Getty Images