Brown, James Nathaniel
James Nathaniel Brown
PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER
Jim Brown was arguably the finest athlete of his generation in any team sport. Brown dominated the National Football League so completely at the running back position that over 40 years after his retirement, he continues to hold many of the significant personal performance standards in the history of the National Football League (NFL).
After Brown moved with his family from rural Georgia to Long Island, his potential as an all around athlete began to surface in the high school athletic leagues. Brown was a dominant football running back, basketball player, and an outstanding lacrosse midfielder. Brown was a much sought after university recruit; he ultimately accepted a football scholarship at Syracuse University in upstate New York.
At 6 ft 3 in (2 m), 235 lb (107 kg), Brown was almost as large as the typical football linemen playing in the 1950s. He possessed the rare combination of brutish power and true breakaway speed, capped with a nimble footedness usually associated with a much smaller player. Brown shattered every rushing record at Syracuse, and he was touted as the leading professional football prospect at the time of his graduation from Syracuse in 1957, where he was named to the college All American team.
What is less heralded but as impressive regarding Brown's football career at Syracuse was his demonstrated ability in a number of other sports. Brown was a well regarded basketball player, talented enough to be one of the best Syracuse varsity players during his university career. Brown had elite caliber speed in the 100-m sprints; he finished a highly credible fifth in the 1956 Olympic trials in the most demanding of track and field sports, the decathlon. His decathlon result was a remarkable achievement for a 20-year-old man who did not specialize in track and field.
Brown was also the best field lacrosse player of his generation. The combination of speed and power that stood Brown so well as a football running back was tailor made for the lacrosse midfield position, a position that requires a tough, intelligent player who is generally the best athlete on the team. Brown was an All American in field lacrosse for three straight seasons at Syracuse; he is the only athlete to be inducted into both the football and lacrosse Halls of Fame.
Brown was drafted in the first round of the 1957 National Football League draft by the Cleveland Browns, where he immediately established a reputation as the most dangerous offensive player in the league. Brown proceeded to break almost every record for yardage gained by a running back, operating out of a Cleveland offence that revolved around his talents.
Between the years of 1958 and 1965, Brown was voted onto every NFL All-Pro team. Brown was a transcendent talent in the league and he was overwhelmingly popular in the city of Cleveland. His popularity proved so powerful that Brown led a player revolt against the Cleveland coaching staff when he protested his role in coach Paul Brown's offense in 1962. The revolt resulted in the firing of coach Brown. Under a new coach, Blanton Collier, Brown set a new NFL rushing record in 1963, gaining 1,863 yards. At the end of season, in recognition of his achievements, Brown was invited to meet President Lyndon Johnson at the White House.
After blazing such a definitive trail on the NFL fields, Brown began to extend his interest to pursuits beyond football. Brown began to study acting, with a view to a possible Hollywood career. Brown entered into a contract with Pepsi-Cola that permitted him to travel in the off season as an executive and spokesperson for the company.
His role in the movie "Rio Conchos," a story of the U.S. Cavalry in the 1800s, led to more movie roles for Brown, placing him in a conflict with his team. When the film "The Dirty Dozen" was set to begin filming at the same time that the Cleveland training camp was scheduled to open in July, 1966. Brown, at age 30, shocked the sports world by announcing his retirement from the NFL to concentrate on acting.
Brown's movie career never achieved the standards Brown established in sport. He was dogged by a series of unflattering domestic violence allegations; Brown was convicted of two assaults involving women, and other breaches of court orders in relation to sentences imposed on Brown as a result of those occurrences.
In the late 1980s, Brown worked on a number of projects that centered upon community outreach. Brown founded Amer-I-Can in 1987. Amer-I-Can is an organization that attempts to instill personal growth techniques and life management skills in gang members and prison inmates. Brown has frequently spoken out regarding his perceptions of racism and its prevalence in both American sport and the community at large.
Brown won innumerable awards as an athlete, culminating in his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, 1971. Other running backs have since superseded Brown's career rushing yardage totals, all of whom have played far more games than did Brown. Brown' most noteworthy record, unlikely to ever be eclipsed, is the fact that he never missed a game in his NFL career, despite taking at times a terrific pounding from defenses focused on stopping him.