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Hall of Famer Jim Brown – All-time NFL great running back and social activist, dead at 87


One of the greatest players in football history and one of the game’s first superstars, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, has died at 87. A spokeswoman said Brown passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home on Thursday night with his wife, Monique, by his side.

Known as the unstoppable running back who retired at the peak of his brilliant career to become an actor, Brown was also well-known and respected as a prominent civil rights advocate during the 1960s.

Brown, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, was the incomparable No. 32, a 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. 

He was a force on the field of play that was dominant, relentless and showed opponents no mercy. An unstoppable runner with power, speed and endurance, Brown’s arrival sparked the game’s burgeoning popularity on television. 

During his career, Brown was known for blasting through would-be tacklers and refusing to be taken down by linebackers and defensive backs as he sprinted out of their reach.

Brown was famous for using a stiff arm on defenders as he shoved them out of his path. His football career was short, spanning from 1957-65, but his tenure as a player was remarkable. Brown never missed a game, playing in 118 straight. 

He was an eight-time All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl in each of his nine years in the league. When Brown walked away from the game at age 30, he held the league’s records for yards (12,312) and touchdowns (126).

Brown was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (1965) and shattered the league’s record books. Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to become an actor.

Brown appeared in more than 30 films, including Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday”, “The Dirty Dozen,” “100 Rifles,” “Mars Attacks,” Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,”  “Any Given Sunday,” and the satire “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” in which he parodied the blaxploitation genre. In 2002, Brown was the subject of Lee’s HBO documentary “Jim Brown: All-American.”

Brown was also a champion for Black Americans and used his voice to fight for equality. During the ’50s, as Black Americans fought for equality, Brown used his platform to advance the cause. Brown is credited with organizing a meeting in 1967 in Cleveland of the nation’s top Black athletes, including Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to support boxer Muhammad Ali’s fight against the war in Vietnam.

Brown also worked to curb gang violence in LA and founded Amer-I-Can, a program to help disadvantaged inner-city youth and ex-convicts.

Off the field, Brown had different sides. He was known for helping those in need and using his wealth and generosity to change the lives of others, but he also had a tumultuous relationship with women and was often accused of hitting them, which led to arrests. He was arrested a half-dozen times, mostly on charges of hitting women.

The son of a professional boxer and a domestic worker, Brown was born on Feb. 17, 1936, in St. Simons Island, Georgia, but raised in New York. He was a multisport star at Manhasset High School on Long Island and excelled in athletic competition. He played on his high school football, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse teams, and also ran track. He averaged 14.9 yards per carry in football and once scored 55 points in a game.

At Syracuse University, he continued with four of the five sports (all except baseball). Despite becoming an All-American in football and lacrosse, Brown was subjected to racist taunts during the mid-1950s while playing at the virtually all-white school. In 1957, Brown was the sixth overall by Cleveland and would earn Offensive Rookie of the Year that season. Brown’s No. 32 was retired by the Browns in ’71, the same year he entered the Hall of Fame. 

Former Browns coach Romeo Crennel said of Brown, “He’s one of the greatest players in NFL history and what he was able to accomplish in his time was tremendous. I don’t know that anybody could do what he did, the way he did it, under the circumstances that he had to operate and the things that he had to endure. And for him to go out on top, that’s something that not many guys are able to appreciate either.”

Brown is survived by his second wife, Monique, and their two children as well as four children from his first marriage.


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