Jim Brown 'Broke Down Walls'

LeBron James says football great made speaking out possible
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2023 1:35 PM CDT
Mourners Honor Jim Brown
Jim Brown, center, picks up a trophy presented by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, to the members of Cleveland Browns 1964 championship team in 2004. At left is Bernie Parish, and at right Paul Wiggin.   (AP Photo/Jamie-Andrea Yanak, File)

"I was a symbol of a Black man who wanted all of my freedoms," Jim Brown told the Washington Post in 1979. "It's very difficult for White America to understand that if you are part of football's elite why you are not satisfied with recognition and good money." Brown, the football great who died Thursday, put his will and strength to use on behalf of civil rights and social and economic justice. Even before retiring from the NFL, Brown saw off-the-field causes as more important, and he said wanted the same rights other Americans had; Post columnist Shirley Povich pointed out after a game that Brown was "born ineligible" to play for Washington's unintegrated team. "Anyone who expected me to be overjoyed that I was doing well in football would be disappointed," he said. He could be a source of pain for others, too. Parts of Brown's life "were as ugly as the bigotry he overcame," Jerry Brewer writes in a Washington Post column you can find here. Athletes and others are taking the measure of Brown:

  • LeBron James: "When I choose to speak out, I always think about Jim Brown. I can only speak because Jim broke down those walls for me," the NBA star posted on Instagram.
  • Jim Porter: "When Jim Brown's name was announced in a room, other Hall of Famers stood and applauded him," the Pro Football Hall of Fame president said.
  • Roger Goodell: "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," the NFL commissioner said in a statement, per the AP.
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "Jim's dedication to the fight for equal rights was a lifelong effort and something that enabled me to maintain our friendship for over 50 years," the NBA Hall of Famer tweeted, per CNN.
  • Barack Obama: "One of the greatest football players ever, he was also an actor and activist—speaking out on civil rights, and pushing other Black athletes to do the same," the former president tweeted.
(More Jim Brown stories.)

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