He used to be one of the most feared athletes on the gridiron, and after he retired at age 30, he took that same toughness directly to the streets. His legacy both on and off the field was one of a tireless worker who wasn’t afraid of contact. He was a modern-day civil rights leader who was so gang-affiliated that leaders of some of the most notorious street and prison gangs, who would die for their hood, would listen to Jim Brown.
So what the fuck happened to the guy who was once a crucial member of a historic meeting of black athletes who came together in 1967 to talk about the conditions of black folks and the role that African Americans played in the Vietnam War?
Brown has been a vocal leader in the push for black equality since the late ’50s. He started the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, which was later renamed the Black Economic Union, a black capitalist group aimed at helping African Americans compete in business.
In the late 1980s he started the Amer-I-Can program, which aimed to turn around the lives of young gang members. But more importantly, and what was probably his greatest work, he held black athletes accountable to the black community.
In 2009, during an episode of HBO Real Sports, Brown had this to say of Tiger Woods’ and Michael Jordan’s contributions to the black community:
There are one or two individuals in this country that are black that have been put in front of us as an example, but they’re basically under a system that says, “Hey, they’re not going to do certain things.” Yes, that disappoints me because I know they both know better.
Brown added that Woods and Jordan “both can do better without hurting themselves.” Of Woods, Brown added: “He’s a killer. He’ll run over you. He’ll kick your ass. But as an individual for social change ... [he’s] terrible because he can get away with teaching kids to play golf, and that’s his contribution.”
So it’s in this vein that I say, what the fuck has happened to Jim Brown?
The Jim Brown of old would kick this new Jim Brown’s ass. The new Jim Brown meets with Donald Trump and not only does he meet with him, but the two of them kick it. Old Jim Brown would’ve been ultra critical of this upcoming presidency. New Jim Brown is critical of a civil rights icon who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. because he criticized the president-elect. New Jim Brown is hosting a $1,000-a-person inauguration event with Omarosa Manigault.
So far, four people have indicated that they plan to attend.
Old Jim Brown wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with any of this. For a man who spent the majority of his life fighting against the mistreatment of blacks, it’s confusing to see him become the man he was fighting against.
I’m under no illusion that Jim Brown has softened; even at 80, while slow of foot, Brown still looks like he could play middle linebacker in the NFL. But I must say that with age, Brown has become the black man next to the white man who hates everything he stood for. So it’s odd to see one of the greatest black athletes become a spokesperson for Emperor Orange Julius.
Brown has never been one to bow down to anyone, so it’s beyond weird to watch the man my father lauded almost as much as he did Ali* cower and soft-shoe his way around Trump when he used to run over people just like him.
*All black men of a certain age will whoop your ass if you say anything bad to them about Muhammad Ali; he is a god and not to be played with.