NFL legend, social rights activist, and actor Jim Brown passed away at 87, according to his wife Monique. The pro football Hall of Famer was known for being one of the best running backs in NFL history.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement, calling Brown “a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport.”
“On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Monique and their family,” Goodell said. “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.”
A sixth overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft, Brown spent his entire nine-year career with the Cleveland Browns, earning a Pro Bowl nod every season. Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalled his early recollection of Brown.
“When I was still in grade school, he was the running back I wanted to see on Sundays,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I remember going out, freezing out there in Yankee stadium and watching Jim Brown run against the Giants.”
Brown was the 1957 Rookie of the Year and MVP. He then became an NFL Champion in 1964.
For eight seasons, Brown led the NFL in rushing yards; he also led the league in yards and touchdowns for five seasons. Brown was named the league’s best running back every season he played. Brown retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards, he averaged 104.3 yards per game and had a total of 126 touchdowns.
“I hope every Black athlete takes the time to educate themselves about this incredible man and what he did to change all of our lives. We all stand on your shoulders Jim Brown,” Lakers star LeBron James stated on Instagram. “If you grew up in Northeast Ohio and were Black, Jim Brown was a God. As a kid who loved football, I really just thought of him as the greatest Cleveland Brown to ever play.”
In 1966, Brown founded the Negro Industrial Economic Union which later became known as the Black Economic Union (BEU). The organization boosted economic opportunities and resources for Black-owned businesses.
Brown became a prominent figure in the Black Pride Movement. Along with Abdul-Jabbar, he was one of the athletes who were members of the 1967 Cleveland Summitt, a meeting that discussed Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted in the Vietnam War.
In 1988, Brown founded the Amer-I-Can program that serves at-risk youth and individuals in marginalized communities.
“From the football field, to Hollywood, to his work in athlete activism, Jim always played the leading role,” The Brown family stated in the wake of his passing. “His devotion to fighting racial injustice, improving education for youth and positively impacting the many lives he has through his Amer-I-Can Program has left a lasting legacy well beyond all he accomplished on the field.”
Brown worked as an actor while playing in the NFL, starring in the western “Rio Conchos” in 1964. He got his first leading role in 1968 in the movie “The Split.” Other movies he starred in are “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Ice Station Zebra,” and “The Running Man.”
Growing up, Brown was a multi-sport athlete, competing in lacrosse, baseball, basketball, football, and track and field. During his freshman year at Syracuse, he was the only Black player on the football team. While he experienced racism in the program, he excelled in football, track, lacrosse, and basketball. As a senior, he became a consensus first-team All-American and competed in the National Championship Decathlon as a junior.