One of the NFL’s most prolific players and a civil rights icon, Jim Brown, the legendary Browns Hall of Fame running back, passed away. He was 87 years old.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam said, “Jim Brown is an icon not just for the Cleveland Browns but for the entire NFL.” The Browns have a tremendous fan base today because of Jim Br
own, one of the greatest players to ever wear a Browns uniform and perhaps one of the greatest players in NFL history. In the years that followed, so many people watched him dominate the football field, but his countless accolades on the field are just a small part of his story.
Brown, who played for the Browns from 1957-1965, was an all-time rushing leader with 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns across his nine-year career. He never missed a game in his career, led the league in rushing eight times, and was voted MVP three times. Brown was an NFL Champion with the Browns in 1964 and helped lead them to the NFL Championship game three times. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl every year of his career and was a first-team All-Pro selection in eight seasons.
At the time of his retirement, Brown was considered one of the greatest rushers in NFL history. He ranks 11th all-time in rushing yards and sixth in rushing touchdowns.
As a high school athlete, Brown dominated in football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, and track at Manhasset Secondary School, where he was born in St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1936. Despite his otherworldly talents, he continued to excel as a football, basketball, lacrosse and track athlete at Syracuse.
During his senior year, Brown became a unanimous first-team All-American with 986 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games. He also set a program record with six touchdowns in one game.
As a sixth-round pick in the 1957 NFL draft, Brown was immediately inserted into coach Paul Brown’s offense, and he flourished instantly. In his rookie season, he rushed for 942 yards and nine touchdowns, including 237 yards in his ninth game, the most in a single game in league history for 14 years and a rookie record for 40 years.
As a rookie, Brown is still the only player to ever win the MVP award.
“(Coach Paul Brown) liked me,” Brown said on NFL Network’s “A Football Life.” “He told me, ‘You are my running back. You are my running back.’ It was the sweetest words I’ve ever heard.”
In 1978, the NFL expanded its season to 16 games, and in 2021 to 17 games, Brown led the league in rushing yards for seven of the next eight years and became the first player ever to score 100 career rushing touchdowns. Only eight other players have achieved this feat. For the first four years of Brown’s career, he played 12 games in the NFL and for the last five years, 14 games.
He caught 262 passes for 2,499 yards and 20 touchdowns during his career and returned 29 kicks for 648 yards. He also passed for three touchdowns in his career.
It shocked the sports world when Brown announced his retirement in July 1966. Brown, who had begun an acting career in 1964, wanted to focus his attention on the entertainment industry after leading the league in rushing yards (1,544) and touchdowns (17) in his final season. While filming “The Dirty Dozen” in London, he announced his retirement.
After retiring, Brown told Sports Illustrated’s Tex Maule:
As much as I wanted to play, it was impossible. We are running behind schedule shooting here, for one thing. I want more mental stimulation than I would get playing football. I want to be part of the struggle that is taking place in our country, and I have the chance now. A year from now, I may not be able to.”
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
One year after retiring from professional football, Brown founded the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, which later became the Black Economic Union. In Brown’s efforts to make the country a more equal place for African Americans, this organization became the nucleus of his efforts to guide black entrepreneurs.
On June 4, 1967, Brown participated in the Cleveland Summit, which was one of the most important moments in sports and civil rights history. He and several other prominent Black athletes gathered inside the Black Economic Union’s offices to interview boxer Muhammad Ali and decide whether to support his stand against being inducted into the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War. John Wooten, a former Browns player, and Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bobby Mitchell were among those in attendance.
In the end, the group decided to support Ali. A picture of them standing together in the same room beside Ali and Brown became a defining photo of the civil rights movement as a symbol of black athletes uniting to support another black athlete’s cause.
As Abdul-Jabbar said on Brown’s “A Football Life,” that picture symbolizes Black Americans’ increasing willingness to confront the powers-that-be on issues that matter to them.
In 1988, Brown also founded Amer-I-Can, an organization that helps gang members and at-risk youths meet their academic potential, conform their behavior to acceptable societal standards, and improve their quality of life by equipping them with what they need to be confident and successful contributors to society. A truce was established by the organization in 1992 between rival Los Angeles gangs.
“We hope and believe that his legacy as a great player, coach and humanitarian will continue long after he’s gone,” the Haslams said. “We are grateful for all the time we’ve spent with him and know that he has left a lasting impact on everyone he’s come into contact with.
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, he always played the leading role in everything he did. With his Amer-I-Can Program, he has made a lasting difference in many lives through his commitment to combating racial injustice, improving education for youth, and positively impacting the many lives he has touched, far beyond what he accomplished on the field.
The Cleveland Browns are mourning the loss of Jim Brown and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Monique, his children, and entire family.
His acting career spanned over five decades, starting with his first appearance in 1964 in “Rio Conchos” and ending in 2014 in “Draft Day,” a film filmed at the Browns’ headquarters in Berea. Over 50 movies and television shows were filmed with Brown.
Brown had been working with the Browns as an executive advisor and special advisor since 2008. A statue of him was erected outside Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2016.
During the NFL Honors in Phoenix in February, the NFL announced that its league rushing title would be renamed “The Jim Brown Award” in honor of Brown.