Jim Brown will whip your ass
Of all of the athletes in the history of American sports, few confuse me more than Jim Brown. (Others that confuse me: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, and Steve Young) In fact, he may be to sports what Marlon Brando was to acting. And for those of you who know me, that means I love Jim Brown, not in spite of, but because of his quirks.
Brown competed in both football and lacrosse at Syracuse. And while he is mainly known for his career as a Cleveland Browns running back, some have argued that he was even more talented at lacrosse. (He is in the lacrosse, pro football, and college football halls of fame.) He retired prematurely from the NFL after just 9 seasons. After his playing days ended, he acted in a number of horrible movies but continued to consider himself a serious and remarkably talented actor. That's one thing he has in common with Brando: Neither ever recognized the ridiculousness of their actions. They both took themselves seriously at all times. Apparently, in the early 1980s, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris was threatening to break Jim Brown's career rushing record, and Brown actually contemplated returning to the NFL to defend his record because he did not like Harris' tendency to run out of bounds to avoid hits. (Eventually, Walter Payton broke his record, and Brown did not come out of retirement.)
So, why this post right now? Well, I was watching Stephen A. Smith's Quite Frankly at about 5 in the morning a couple of nights ago. (A note about Stephen A. Smith: I actually argued with the other contributors about Stephen A. Smith when he first hit the scene a few years ago. Most of the Awesome USA staff members told me that Stephen A was an absolute moron and that his arguments consist of nothing more than him yelling at his opponents. Being the contrarian that I am, I defended Stephen A. as a passionate defender of the modern athlete. Today, I can admit that I was wrong. Stephen A. Smith is horrible. No one likes him. His arguments are barely intelligible, and he would rather devour his own children than admit he's wrong.)
Anyway, Stephen A. was doing a show on some controversial new book on the legacy of Muhammad Ali. (I'm sure Thelonius Monk will reply to this post in defense of Mr. Clay.) Anyway, the book apparently disputes the heroic image we all have of Ali. The author argues that Ali was manipulated by the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He also points out Ali's unfair treatment of Joe Frazier and his failed relationships with his numerous wives.
Back to Jim Brown. Stephen A. had like 4 or 5 panelists discussing the book, one of which was Jim Brown. All of them, except for maybe one guy, seemed more than willing to acknowledge that this supposedly controversial book had some worth and that, like all humans, Ali had flaws. While the panelists were more than capable of having a civil discussion on the topic, Stephen A. was gettting frustrated by the panelists' refusals to attack the author. At one point in the program, Stephen A. launched into an assault on the author's view that Ali was a racist and makes a comment about "White America vs. Black America" during the civil rights era. He goes to Jim Brown for support, but Brown snaps at Stephen A., saying that a number of white college students risked their careers during the civil rights era for equality and an end to discrimination. Stephen A. presses the matter, as if he can't believe Jim Brown won't say that every white American hated blacks during the 60s. Brown then proceeds to lecture Stephen A. on the realities of the civil rights movement. At one point, he says something to the effect of, "Bobby Kennedy was a friend of the black man!" The way he said it, it was almost like in the scene from Ricky Bobby where Michael Clarke Duncan's character says to Ricky Bobby, "Don't you put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby!"
I'm starting to think that this post was a mistake. I just wish everyone could have seen Quite Frankly just this once. After Brown's civil rights lecture, Stephen A. seemed more than a little gun shy for the rest of the program, which is saying something in and of itself.
Jim Brown also briefly talked about his relationship with both Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr. Everytime I see Brown on a talk show, I always think, "Man, this guy wearing that little African-themed beanie has some pretty good ideas." Still, I can't take him seriously. Kind of like Marlon Brando. I think it's because he's so full of himself. The following is an interview that I think will happen someday.
Interviewer: Who do you think had a bigger impact on the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcom X?
Jim Brown: Jim Brown
I: Who is the greatest actor of all time?
JB: Jim Brown
I: Who is the greatest athlete of all time?
JB: Jim Brown
I: Who has been the most influential person of the last 1,000 years.
JB: Jim Brown, damnit.
One last thing: In this controversial new book, the author apparently adopts the notion that the Nation of Islam was behind the murder of Malcom X. At the beginning of the show, Stephen A. listed this as one of the more controversial claims made by the author, but the panelists pretty much ignored this part of the book during their discussion. When Jim Brown was finally brought into the conversation via satellite, one of the first things he says, pretty much out of nowhere, is something like, "If you think the Nation of Islam had Malcom X killed, then you need to do some more research." And he had this look on his face as if to say, "I know who killed Malcom X, but nobody else is ever going to know who done it." It's not that this was a funny moment or anything, I just thought it was really weird and kind of creepy.
So, what I'm trying to say is this: There are only a few people in this world that I want to like me. One of them is Jim Brown. In fact, I often think of how great it would be if Jim Brown was from my hometown. Because if he was and if I was a little boy, he would put me on his shoulders at the high school football game and walk me around. It would be packed and hard to move, and he would shove people out of the way and say things like, "Get the hell out of my way. The king is coming through. The king and his little prince."