“Our Hearts Are Broken” | Football Legend, Activist And Actor Jim Brown Passes At Age 87

Ten months after losing the great Bill Russell, the sports world is mourning the loss of the another great, as the legendary Jim Brown has passed at age 87.

Brown dominated on the NFL gridiron just like the 11-time NBA champion Russell dominated on the NBA hardwood, embraced his celebrity and used it to influence widespread social change, Brown blossomed into an activist, actor and a gang intervention specialist, helping to negotiate temporary truces between violence-ridden gangs in California.

He was also strong-minded and his views became increasingly conservative as he grew older, at times, drawing the ire of the Black community that he has stood so valiantly and progressively for during the civil rights movement.

Jim Brown’s Passing Was Peaceful

On Friday, May 19, Brown’s wife Monique announced his passing via an Instagram post saying he “passed peacefully” on Thursday night. 

“To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star,” the post stated. “To our family he  was a loving and wonderful husband, father and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”

Brown’s list of accolades from his time on the gridiron are nothing short of amazing, despite his short nine-year career.

Brown Led League In Rushing In Eight Of Nine NFL Seasons

Brown lettered at Syracuse ten times in four sports: football, basketball, lacrosse, and track and field.

That led to him being taken in the first round of the 1957 NFL draft. Brown played nine seasons in Cleveland, leading the league in rushing an amazing eight seasons. In his career, Brown rushed for over 12,300 yards while boasting a hefty 5.2 yards per carry.

The player nicknamed “First Down Brown,” rushed for over 100 yards in 58 out of 118 career games just one game shy of half his of his career. Durability was Brown’s name, as he never missed a game in his professional career. 

A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time MVP, Brown, also led the Browns to the 1964 championship. It was the last championship the city would see until LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title in 2016, 52 years later. 

Two of Brown’s three best seasons came in 1958 — when he rushed for 1,527 yards in 12 games — and in 1963 when the dynamic and extremely physical Brown set his career high by rushing for 1,863 yards in a 14-game season.

Brown’s 106 career rushing touchdowns still rank sixth all-time in NFL history. And his 126 total pay dirt touches are still good enough for tenth all-time with former Minnesota Vikings legend Adrian Peterson, who ran the football a lot like Brown did.

The Georgia-born fullback stunned the sports world in 1966 when he retired from the NFL in the summer before the season. At age 30 then, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Brown was healthy and still in his prime after being selected MVP for the third time in his career following a 1965 campaign in which rushed for 1544 yards. His announced his next arena would be acting.

When Brown hung up his cleats in 1966 he already had appeared in the 1964 Western “Rio Conchos.” That summer he had been shooting “The Dirty Dozen” in England when weather issues slowed the production schedule so much that he had to call the Browns to report he’d be delayed in reporting to training camp. Team owner Art Modell told Brown he’d be fined for every day of camp he missed. Brown responded by holding a news conference from the movie set to announce he was done with football.

His football fame made the transition to Hollywood successful. He scored quickly with his role in the action classic “The Dirty Dozen,” which was released in 1967, and by the 1970s he was an in-demand actor for blaxploitation films such as “Slaughter,” “Black Gunn,” and “Three the Hard Way.” Brown would rack up dozens of credits in film and TV over the next several decades, but he also made a name for himself in a recurring role that was no act.

Brown Was A Renowned Activist 

While he is considered by many to be the most dominant running back in NFL history, it’s what Brown did as an activist that stood out as well. 

In 1966, Brown helped establish the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, a Black economic empowerment group composed mostly of Black pro athletes.

Describing to Ebony magazine in 1968 what the organization hoped to accomplish, Brown said. “Dealing with the white man economically is one of the things we’re teaching brothers. We believe that the closest you can get to independence in a capitalist country is financial independence.”

1966 Cleveland Summit

Brown took initiative and led the 1967 “Cleveland Summit.” That meeting brought together some powerful Black men, such as Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to support legendary boxer Muhammad Ali’s battle against having to serve in Vietnam.

In the 1990s he helped mediate the 1992 truce between gangs in Los Angeles. In the years in between, he’d maintained credibility as a powerful voice in the community.

The Negro Industrial and Economic Union holds a news conference at a Cleveland office building on June 4, 1967, in support of Muhammad Ali’s refusal to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The scene shows (front row, seated from left) Boston Celtics center Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and UCLA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then still known as Lew Alcindor. (Photo: Tony Tomsic/Associated Press)

Jim Brown’s Death Is A Huge Loss

It’s a huge loss to the NFL community, and commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement in wake of the announcement says it all. 

Goodell called Brown a “gifted athlete who “became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sports.”

The Browns also shared a statement on the franchise’s greatest player.

“It’s impossible to describe the profound love and gratitude we feel for having the opportunity to be a small piece of Jim’s incredible life and legacy. We mourn this passing, but celebrate the indelible light he brought to the world. 

“Our hearts are with Jim’s family, loved ones, and all those, he impacted along the way. 

The world lost an icon and legend who impacted life well beyond the football field. Rest easy, Jim Brown, you earned it.

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