Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the unstoppable running back who retired at the peak of his brilliant career to become an actor as well as a prominent civil rights advocate during the 1960s, has died. He was 87.
A spokeswoman for Brown’s family said he passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home on Thursday night with his wife, Monique, by his side.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my husband, Jim Brown,” Monique Brown said in a statement on Friday. “He passed peacefully last night at our L.A. home. To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family, he was a loving and wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”
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One of the greatest players in football history and one of the game’s first superstars, Brown was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1965 and shattered the league’s record books in a short career spanning 1957-65.
“On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Monique and their family,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement on Friday. “Jim Brown was a gifted athlete — one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field — but also a cultural figure who helped promote change.
“During his nine-year NFL career, which coincided with the civil rights movement here at home, he became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport. He inspired fellow athletes to make a difference, especially in the communities in which they lived.”
Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to become an actor. He appeared in more than 30 films, including “Any Given Sunday” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
“Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL,” Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a statement on Friday. “He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history. Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today. So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story.”
An unstoppable runner with power, speed and endurance, Brown’s arrival sparked the game’s burgeoning popularity on television.
As Black Americans fought for equality, Brown used his platform and voice to advance their cause.
In 1967, Brown organized a meeting in Cleveland of the nation’s top Black athletes, including Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to support boxer Muhammad Ali’s fight against the war in Vietnam.
In later years, he worked to curb gang violence in LA and founded Amer-I-Can, a program to help disadvantaged inner-city youth and ex-convicts.
On the field, there was no one like Brown, who would blast through would-be tacklers, refusing to let one man take him down before sprinting away from linebackers and defensive backs. He was also famous for using a stiff arm to shed defenders in the open field or push them away like they were rag dolls.
Brown was an eight-time All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl in each of his nine years in the league. When Brown walked away from the game at age 30, he held the league’s records for yards (12,312) and touchdowns (126). Brown later was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and was named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary all-time team in 2019.
And despite his bruising style, Browns never missed a game, playing in 118 straight.
“He told me, ‘Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts,'” said Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey. “He lived by that philosophy and I always followed that advice.”
A two-sport star at Syracuse — some say he is the best lacrosse player in NCAA history — Brown endured countless racist taunts while playing at the virtually all-white school at the time. Still, he was an All-American in both sports, leading the nation in scoring, and lettered in basketball.
Brown was the sixth overall pick of the 1957 draft, joining a team that routinely played for the title. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year that season.
Running behind an offensive line featuring Hall of Fame tackles Lou Groza and Mike McCormack, Brown set a league mark with 1,527 yards and scored 17 TDs on his way to the league’s Most Outstanding Player award — a precursor to the MVP — in 1958. Over the next three seasons, he never ran for less than 1,257 yards before picking up just 996 in 1962.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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