One adjective describes the various expressions of Jim Brown, who has died aged 87: Scary. He relished on the football field, in action films, as a civil rights activist, and as a proud Black American proponent of economic self-reliance and less relish in the violence displayed against women.

His fame was built on American football, in high school, then at Syracuse University and for the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. Arguably, he was the greatest running back ever to play professional sports. He led the league in rushing in eight of the nine seasons he played in 1957–65, averaging over 100 yards per game, which is still an all-time record. His strength allowed him to run through merchants and the speed of his feet could carry him around them. Sam Huff, a great defensive player, described trying to tackle Brown: “All you can do is hold, hold, stop and wait for help.”

Comparisons can be made with Babe Ruth in baseball or Don Bradman in cricket, two players who were better than any of their contemporaries. In a 2010 poll of 85 NFL publishers, Brown was ranked the second best player of all time, behind the near-incomparable catcher (who came along later) Jerry Rice. He was also a collegiate star in lacrosse, basketball and athletics.

Brown was still at his peak at age 30 when he left the game. he was in london with a part dirty dozen when filming moved to the NFL pre-season. Browns owner Art Modell, himself a football legend, threatened to fine his star for every day he was not at training. That last gridiron was Jim Brown’s saw.

But not the movie watching public. former footballer, with his roles in 100 rifles And Ice Station Zebra, The career change marked the beginning of a growing trend of all action films that would continue into the 70s and 80s. One critic scathingly remarked “the range of emotion that Brown displayed onscreen was no wider than a mail slot,” but added that he did not let himself down by playing the “comic part”. Feminist writer Gloria Steinem thought he could become “a black John Wayne”. , , With a hint of Malcolm X.” He once told her: “I don’t want to play Negro roles. Just cool, tough modern men who are also Negroes. And not nice guys all the time.

Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali stand face to face
Jim Brown on the film set of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ with his friend boxer Muhammad Ali © AP

That independent streak was already evident in his relationship with another free-thinking black athlete, boxer Muhammad Ali. He met activist Malcolm X and singer Sam Cooke in 1964, when the heavyweight dethroned Sonny Liston as world champion. Three years later, Brown organized what became known as the Ali Summit in Cleveland, which brought together other prominent black athletes to advise Ali, who had been denied a draft into the US Army at the height of the Vietnam War. Because of this, their titles were taken away.

Among them were basketball stars Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). They were successful in stiffening the boxer’s spine, if it was, in fact, required to stiffen. More than that, they came out in public support of Ali, encouraging other athletes regardless of skin color to take a stand on issues of racial awareness.

Brown established a job creation system in his adopted hometown to help the black community become an economic force. This reflected his conviction that monetary self-sufficiency could accomplish more than the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King. (Brown said he admired King but added: “I cannot believe that freedom will be won through love.”) He later worked to help gang members and inmates survive in society. Established a foundation in Los Angeles.

Jim Brown in action bridging the gap between the other players
Jim Brown, who retired from American football at age 30 to pursue a film career, is still one of the NFL’s greats © AP

But there was also a dark side to the player, notably several arrests for assaulting women, among them his second wife Monique, resulting in four months in prison in 2002. His own memoirs do not present a pretty picture. Perhaps in an attempt to emulate basketball’s Wilt Chamberlain, who infamously claimed to have slept with 20,000 women, Brown confessed to numerous sex parties and was known to boast about his sexual prowess. Monique lives with him with five children.

It was a very distant life, but perhaps explained by its humble beginnings. He was born James Nathaniel Brown on February 17, 1936, on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia—now popular with tourists but once home to cotton plantations using slave labor. His father, a boxer and gambler, soon abandoned the family and he was raised by relatives before moving to New York to live with his mother at the age of eight. That’s where his sporting life began – and he realized that being afraid was essential to being successful.

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