The Cleveland Browns announced today that they are going honor Jim Brown, who played for them from 1957-1965 and has done numerous, favorable things for Cleveland and other cities in this country, with a statue in front of their football stadium. It will be unveiled later this year. Once again, in what seems to be a trend as I get older, I am faced with the prospect of trying to balance the good parts of someone I admire with the undeniably negative aspects of their life. I've had to deal with that weird duality with Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Joe Paterno and now Mr. Jim Brown. As an aside I've had to deal with those issues on a much smaller scale with my parents too, but that's another blog for another time.
On the field, Jim Brown was a grown man among brave, but ill-equipped boys. He ran over folks, he ran around them, he was fast, strong, agile and the ultimate alpha male. In college he ruled both the football and lacrosse fields, so he was no stranger to being the most superior athlete. He retired in his prime at the age of 30, because he wanted to film a movie--which in those days represented more money than he was making on the football field--so he just abrupty retired and never came back. Acutally he threatned to come back in 1984 when his rushing record was being challenged, but he ultimately never came back. He wasn't the best actor in the world, but he did get to make out with Raquel Welch, which was a big deal at that time.
Off the field, Jim Brown's legend loomed just as large. He was a key figure in the Cleveland Muhammad Ali Summit in 1967 when athletes like Brown, Ali Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and others met in Cleveland to discuss Ali's dedicated to the movement. He's also worked extensively with gangs and he's been a confidant and a mentor to countless younger athletes. That's the good part of Jim Brown.
The bad part? Jim Brown has had several domestic violence incidents with women, as The Big Lead chronicled today, after learning Brown was in line for a statue. He never seemed to particularly apologetic or contrite about his behavior at all. After one domestic incident in 2000, he was ordered to pay a fine, give money to a domestic shelter and do hours of community service. Jim Brown felt like he had been voluntarily peforming community service all his life, so to have to do it as punishment, was insulting. He chose to spend four months of jail instead, but he never really used his platform to speak on the issue of domestic violence..and this was after the O.J. fiasco.
So when someone glorifies Jim Brown, I try preemptively take the wind out of their sails by mentioning that he is deeply flawed and that has to be mentioned in the same breath as tremendous accomplishments on and off the field. But on the other side, when someone simply wants to shit on Jim Brown and his legacy because if his inability to keep his hands to himself, I am just as quick to point out that he did good things on the field and he helped a great deal of people in his lifetime. That is a terrible position to be in either way and I feel like a hypocrite at times, and I'm not even the one who did anything wrong.
I certainly can't expect athletes and entertainers to be model citizens, because Lord knows I've done some shady things in my lifetime. But there are missteps like the ones Tiger Woods made (cheating on his wife) that are minor issues related to bad-decision making and a need for power, control and personal anarchy. And then are mistakes like battery, having sex with underage kids, and drugging womene that make you feel dirty and conflicted. I'm tired of being put in that position with people I geuninely admire, but that's life right?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hasn't let me down yet, so he's the only one of my heroes not related to me, who is still on the up and the up...
By the way, the late, great Ralph Wiley wrote about this topic too. Read it.