Mail alarm clock of May 20, 2023

America learned Friday of the death at 87 of Jim Brown and Barack Obama was quick to pay tribute to the one whom Sports Illustrated qualified as “legendary” American football player, but who was also a great defender of the black community, a contemporary of Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I was too young to remember Jim Brown when he was playing but I knew his story. One of the greatest American football players of all time, he was also an actor and activist, speaking out on civil rights and urging other black athletes to do the same”, tweeted the American president.

“Legend. Leader. Activist. Visionary”. The Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, the one where he spent his entire nine seasons in the league, chose these words to honor his former running back, champion in 1964 – the last title won by the team – and voted best player in the championship three times, relief ESPN. “But his countless accolades on the pitch only tell a small part of his story”pointed out Dee and Jimmy Haslam, the owners of the club.

This story begins in Georgia, where James Nathaniel Brown was born in 1936 and grew up, raised by his grandmother. He joined his mother, who left to work in New York, at the age of eight. In high school, he demonstrated extraordinary physical abilities. “American football was just one of the sports he excelled at”see the Los Angeles Times. He reportedly received 45 scholarship offers from universities across the country. He chooses Syracuse.

He shines there in basketball, lacrosse and track and field. Fifth performer in the country, he even qualified for the 1956 Olympic Games in the decathlon, reports the Cleveland Dealer. But he favored American football and started playing for the Cleveland Browns in 1957.

In nine seasons, he does not miss a single game. “His legend was also greatly marked by the way he left the sport at its peak”note USA Today. In the summer of 1966, the 30-year-old athlete, who had started making films two years earlier with a substantial role in the western Rio Conchos, turned The Dirty Dozen. The production in London is delayed and he asks the owner of the Browns. He is told that he will receive a heavy fine for each day of delay. “Experiencing the threat as an affront, Brown organizes a press conference and announces the end of his career”reports NPR.

A stormy private life

“I could have played for a long time”he then told the magazine Sports Illustrated. “But I was looking for a stronger intellectual stimulation than that of playing American football”. His decision shocked and years later, in 1979, he explained to the washington post that he “It’s very hard for white America to understand why when you’re in elite football, you can’t be satisfied with fame and money. As an American citizen, I wanted the same rights as any American. Anyone who expected me to be ecstatic because football was going well would be disappointed”.

Of hundred guns with Raquel Welch, billed as the first Hollywood film with an interracial love scene at Mars Attacks from Tim Burton to He got game by Spike Lee, running man with Arnord Schwarzenegger, Sunday Hell of Oliver Stone and numerous Blaxploitation films, he has acted in about thirty films for decades. “Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bill Cosby arrived before him”observe Variety. “But they weren’t action movie stars”.

“Brown’s impact as an activist was also profound”insists USA Today. “When the modern civil rights movement grew in the 1950s, few top athletes were talking about race issues. But Brown never hesitated”emphasizes the New York Times.

In 1967, Mr. Brown organized the “Mohammed Ali Summit” in Cleveland to defend the boxer who refused to engage in the Vietnam War. Basketball players Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (also called Lew Alcindor) participate in the event.

Although he admired Martin Luther King, “he did not believe in the power of marches and demonstrations and disagreed with its strategy of passive resistance”, explain NPR. “I didn’t think nonviolence was an answer to the problem of inequality in America,” said Jim Brown, rather convinced by the importance of economic development. He launched the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, a fund to help businesses owned by African-Americans.

In 1988, he also created the Amer-I-Can organization and on several occasions mediated between street gangs in Los Angeles and Cleveland, says the Los Angeles Times. The daily notes that “the man who offered to help young men avoid trouble had trouble himself”. Between 1965 and 1999, “Brown has been charged, tried and even imprisoned for multiple incidents of physical and sexual assault”remember NPR.

In 1999, he had preferred to spend four months in prison than to respect the obligations of community service and seminars on violence imposed by a court. “Away from the pitch, Mr. Brown could be a complex, contradictory and tormented man”summarizes the washington post.

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