The Columbus Dispatch
Jim Brown transcended athletics. ‘He never caved in.’
Widely considered the NFL’S all-time greatest running back, sports enthusiasts are familiar with Jim Brown’s gridiron exploits, but little else.
When people referred to Brown as the best football player ever, he scoffed at the idea, replying humbly, “well, I know I didn’t play any defense for the Browns.”
Brown was an all-around athlete who lettered in several sports, both in high school and college, Syracuse University to be exact. Not only was Brown one of the best college football players, but a two-time All-american in lacrosse. In 1983, he was the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame’s first African American inductee.
Few athletes enjoyed Brown’s level of fame and reverence.
Back in the early 1990s, a mutual friend gave me Brown’s home phone number and encouraged me to call, as I was interested in volunteering for his Ameri-can program.
I later learned it was rapper Big Daddy Kane who answered the phone, but that’s another story. Around, that same time, I had the occasion to meet Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. During one of my visits back east, I told my father about my scheduled meeting with the governor, that I would be traveling to Richmond, Virginia, in a few days to make the appointment.
He was nonplussed.
When he asked what else was going on, I said I had spoken to Jim Brown, that I would be meeting with him upon returning to Los Angeles. Suddenly, my father came alive, “you mean Jimmy Brown of the Cleveland Browns?”
I responded in the affirmative at which point he proceeded to pepper me with questions. He was more interested in my potential association with Jim Brown than he was with my meeting the country’s first elected Black governor.
“I have a lot of respect for ole’ Brown,” said my father who was five years Brown’s senior. He continued with something like, he didn’t sell out . . . he never caved in . . . he didn’t go along to get along . . . always stood tall.
Jim Brown transcended athletics.
He is one of the few people whose activities off the field were just as important, if not more, than his successes on the field. For decades, Brown worked with Los Angeles’ gangs in ways that no one had before.
He assisted with brokering truces and helped countless gang members secure gainful employment, turning them into productive citizens. He was about uplift. Back in the 1960s he launched the Black Economic Union to promote Black entrepreneurship. He also donated to many worthy causes.
Brown was a nonconformist. When the Cleveland Browns’ brass felt Brown’s Hollywood ventures were interfering with the team’s plans, he was threatened with a fine for every day of training camp missed.
He immediately retired, at age thirty. Brown served as a mentor to many a kid headed down the wrong path. He spoke out against police brutality; criticized Black athletes for being apolitical and urged Black athletes to speak up and take a stand on the issues of the day as he and others of his generation had done.
When Muhammad Ali refused to fight for a country that had denied him full citizenship, Brown who was initially skeptical of Ali’s stance, publicly supported Ali’s decision. The photo of him along with Bill Russell, then Lew Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell, Willie Davis, Curtis Mcclinton, and other notables, known as the Cleveland Summit, has a special place in American history.
In Dave Zirin’s 2018 book “Jim Brown: Last Man Standing” one NBA player is quoted saying, Jim Brown “represents strength, courage, stubbornness, rebelliousness and pride.”
That description is hard to argue with.
Judson L. Jeffries is professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University. He is a regular contributor to the Columbus Dispatch.
Mike Dewine needs to look inside himself
I had to roll my eyes while reading Gov. Mike Dewine’s description of his father’s experiences at Dachau after the victims of Nazi Germany were liberated.
He speaks of history repeating itself while his own party works in Ohio to ban books like “Maus, A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History” by Art Spiegelman and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank from school library shelves.
The very people who deny that the Holocaust even happened come from his own party.
Dewine needs to look inside himself and ask why he continues to identify with a party who is full of many people who believe his father is a liar.
Marie Mitchell, Hilliard
Warts and all
Recently, Christopher Russo — a nationally-known Sirius XM sports commentator and history buff — briefed his listeners on his trip to Austria and Germany. While in Munich he visited Dachau, the oldest of the Nazi concentration camps where thousand were killed during WW II.
One observation, among many, that stood out: “The place was crawling with German school children.”
At a time when Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and others are assiduously trying to shield America’s youth from the perils of books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and to keep them unaware of why Gettysburg is more than just a city in Pennsylvania, it appears the Germans are taking a slightly different, “warts and all” approach to the teaching of history.
Desantis would argue this makes students feel icky.
German educators might say: they are supposed to feel icky. For the Florida students who ultimately attend out-of-state colleges, I can envision the following phone call: “Mom, dad, the professor talked about the American Civil War today and all the other students seemed to know what he was talking about. Why don’t I?”
Jon Armstrong, Columbus
I read with interest Gov. Mike Dewine’s guest column about Holocaust history. It’s a real sign of Ohio’s progress, I think. Consider: Dewine’s father fought against the Nazis, and today the Nazis are voting for his son.
William Thacker, Canal Winchester