The football world lost an all-time great on Thursday, as Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown died at the age of 87. Brown, widely considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, had a long and distinguished post-playing career life as both an actor and a civil rights activist.
Brown spent the entirety of his nine-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns, and he was arguably the league’s best running back in every single one of those seasons. He led the NFL in rushing yards in eight of his nine campaigns, and led the league in both yards and touchdowns in five of them. He won league MVP three times and was named a Pro Bowler in each of his nine seasons and a First Team All-Pro in eight of them before abruptly retiring from the game in 1966 at the age of 30.
At the time of his retirement, Brown owned most major NFL rushing records and was widely considered the best running back and arguably best player in the history of the sport. He is still the only player in NFL history to average at least 100 rushing yards per game. He was eventually enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and was named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team as well as its 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
The Browns released the following statement in the wake of his passing:
Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL. He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history. Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today. So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story.
His commitment to making a positive impact for all of humanity off the field is what he should also be known for. In the time we’ve spent with Jim, especially when we first became a part of the Browns, we learned so much from him about the unifying force sports can be and how to use sport as a vehicle for change while making a positive impact in the community. Jim broke down barriers just as he broke tackles. He fought for civil rights, brought athletes from all different sports together to use their platform for good. Many thought Jim retired from football too soon, but he always did it his way. From the football field, to Hollywood, to his work in athlete activism, Jim always played the leading role. His devotion to fighting racial injustice, improving education for youth and positively impacting the many lives he has through his Amer-I-Can Program has left a lasting legacy well beyond all he accomplished on the field.
JIM BROWN IS THE CLEVELAND BROWNS AND OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH HIS WIFE, MONIQUE, HIS CHILDREN AND ENTIRE FAMILY AS WELL AS ALL THOSEWHO MOURN THIS IMMENSE LOSS.
The NFL issued the following statement via its Twitter account:
We are heartbroken by the passing of the legendary Jim Brown. One of the greatest players in NFL history, a true pioneer and activist. Jim Brown’s legacy will live on forever.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter also issued a statement. “When Jim Brown’s name was announced in a room, other Hall of Famers stood and applauded him,” Porter said. “His persona has stood the test of time — a fearless and dominant football player. Jim will always be remembered as one of pro football’s greatest individuals. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s wife, Monique, and their entire family. The Hall of Fame will honor his legacy for years to come.”
Prior to his time in the NFL, Brown starred for the football team at Syracuse, where he also dominated on the lacrosse field, as well as in basketball and track. He is enshrined in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and the Premier Lacrosse League named its league MVP award in his honor. Shortly before the end of his time in football, Brown embarked on an acting career that eventually spanned over 50 years and included credits like Any Given Sunday, He Got Game, Mars Attacks!, Ice Station Zebra, 100 Rifles, Slaughter, The Dirty Dozen, and more.
He was also a key voice in the 1960s civil rights movement, along with other Black athletes like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Muhammad Ali. In 1967, Brown organized a meeting in Cleveland of the nation’s top Black athletes to support Ali’s fight against the war in Vietnam. In the 1970s, Brown founded the Amer-I-Can Foundation, which teaches life skills to gang members and prisoners. The foundation remains active.
While his accomplishments on and off the field were many, Brown had a tumultuous personal life that included numerous arrests — most of them for alleged violence and threatened violence against women. In 1968, for example, Brown was arrested and charged with assault with intent to commit murder after police found his then-girlfriend, model Eva Bohn-Chin, bloodied and injured at his home. It was suspected that Brown had thrown her off of the balcony. The charges were dismissed after Bohn-Chin refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Brown was also charged with and convicted of misdemeanor battery for beating and choking his golf partner in 1975, and in 1997 was charged with making terroristic threats toward his second wife, Monique Brown, among several other violent incidents.
During an interview from jail where he was serving time after refusing to attend domestic violence counseling, Brown acknowledged that he had issues with anger but denied that he had issues with women.
“I can definitely get angry, and I have taken that anger out inappropriately in the past,” he said. “But I have done so with both men and women. So do I have a problem with women? No. I have had anger, and I’ll probably continue to have anger. I just have to not strike out at anyone ever again. I have to be smarter than that, smarter than I was. What I would say is that with wisdom, I will only use my mentality or my spirit aggressively. I will never use my hands [that way] again.”