Jim Brown Should Be Seen Fully, Flaws and All

For all his athletic prowess, all the heft he brought to his social activism, Jim Brown’s power sprang from his unyielding resistance to the narrow definitions imposed by American society on its Black citizens and, in his case, Black male athletes.

The resounding power of no. That is what Jim Brown embodied.

Brown, who died Thursday at 87, lived a life that became an ode to self-determination in the face of stinging racism. He refused to be limited by what others said he could become. He demanded to be seen in his fullness, as a complete human being, with all sides of himself recognized. In keeping with that wish, paying homage to his achievements cannot be adequately done without noting his deep faults.

But we start here with Brown’s life in sports, for his career as an athlete was truly unique.

In college at Syracuse, Brown dominated on the football field as few ever have. But that is not all. He lettered in track and basketball. And in lacrosse, he became an all-American and was considered one of the greatest to ever play the sport.

As a running back for the Cleveland Browns, he racked up mind-bending statistics. In his nine seasons, Brown never missed a game. He won three league M.V.P. awards and an N.F.L. title. His average of 104.3 rushing yards a game is still a record.

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