NFL Great Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns At Odds

By Gary Johnson

In 1989, I was on a business trip in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I remember walking into a book store and seeing a hardback book on the shelf with NFL great Jim Brown on the cover.  The name of the book was “Out of Bounds,” written by Jim Brown with Steve Delsohn (Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing).  Good luck finding a copy of the book now.  I searched for the book on and discovered that the book was a collector’s item.  I paid $15.00 for the book.  The book is selling on for between $37.00 and $235.00.  Glad I still have my copy.  You may want to check the value of your books before you toss them in the trash or donate them.

I bought the book and read it during my trip.  Before I read the book, I believed that Jim Brown was one of the greatest running backs who ever played the game.  After reading the book, I was moved to believe that Jim Brown was THE greatest football player to have ever played the game.  Jim Brown quit at the top of his game.  Legend has it that Brown was also the greatest LaCrosse player who ever lived.  (Don’t take my word for it, check with people who know the sport).

If you look up “proud man in the dictionary,” you will likely see a picture of Jim Brown.  Which brings me to the reported rift this week between Brown and Cleveland Brown’s new President, Mike Holmgren.  Jayson Whitlock of FOX wrote a great article about the rift supplying what I believe is the proper cultural and historical context for the reader who may not be familiar with Jim Brown and his body of work.

In January of this year, shortly after taking control of the Cleveland Browns, NFL long timer Mike Holmgren stripped Brown of his “Executive Advisor” title and $500,000 salary and offered him a $100,000 salary and ceremonial role with the club.  (This reminds me of the job former heavyweight champion Joe Louis held as a casino greeter in Las Vegas).  Brown declined the “job” and left the organization quietly.  Here it is, seven months later.  The team has decided to add Brown to the club’s “Ring of Honor” and Brown has released a letter he wrote to Holmgren that revealed his thoughts about the move complete with some racially charged and incendiary comments.

A portion of the letter to Holmgren reads as follows:

“After that 10-minute meeting, I went to my office with a feeling that I was just fired by the Cleveland Browns, because in my mind, there would be no way on this earth that you would expect me to go against everything that I’ve ever stood for in my whole life.”

Brown ended the letter writing:

“Mike, there’s only one thing that I control in life, and that’s being a man. So let me end with a little humor, because as you say, one monkey don’t stop the show, and as I say ‘Willie Lynch missed a few of us,’ and there will be no Buck Dancing.”

For the record, Mike Holmgren did not infer or insinuate that Jim Brown was a monkey.  For whatever reason, Brown decided to let that firecracker and throw it in the mix.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about Jim Brown over the last 4 decades of following his life off the football field.  Jim Brown is a very proud and often stubborn man.  He and Muhammad Ali are probably two of the most principled athletes of my lifetime.  (Jim Brown chose jail time rather than pick up litter along the highway). His run-ins with the law, particularly as it pertains to domestic violence are well documented.  At 74 years of age, Jim Brown’s life’s work is not about money.  His work with gang members through his AMER-I-CAN organization is legendary.

Mike Holmgren is President of the Cleveland Brown football team.  Like any top executive he has every right to make personnel changes.  He knows about Jim Brown the NFL Hall of Famer, but apparently is not as familiar with Jim Brown the MAN!

Had he done his homework on Jim Brown the MAN, Holmgren would have learned that Jim Brown is Outspoken, Direct and Unafraid! Jim Brown is not into ceremony and pageantry.  Jim Brown is into changing and molding for the better young men’s lives, the same generation of men who play for the Cleveland Browns.  Jim Brown has his hand on the pulse of these young men and therefore ads value to the team.  Brown played for Cleveland and gave that city some of the best football in the history of the franchise.

This is Jim Brown.  Mike Holmgren and the Cleveland Browns organization have to find a way to resolve this matter.  I can see both sides of this situation.  You don’t want to start the 2010-2011 football season in Cleveland with this controversy.  Get this shit fixed.

We have a guy in this town (Washington, DC) who tells the truth and stands up for what he believes.  His name is Harold Bell.  Harold has spent over 40 years working with youth in under-served communities.  He’s used his radio and television shows to expose listeners and viewers to a world outside of the negative things going on in their neighborhood.  In the process, Harold, his wife Hattie and their organization Kids In Trouble, Inc., have change the lives of thousands of young men and women.  (Harold and Hattie will be celebrated on September 5, 2010, in District Heights, MD).  In fact, Harold and Jim Brown go way back, but I digress.

Jim Brown and Harold Bell at Hogates Restaurant in Washington, DC

Regarding the Mike Holmgreen-Jim Brown rift, mistakes were made on both sides.  The two men should acknowledge this, apologize and find a solution that is in the best interest of the team, the fans and the city.  Work it out guys.  Get in a room and work it out.

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.


6 Responses to “NFL Great Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns At Odds”

  1. Brenda Clayton Says:

    Mr. Gary Johnson,
    You’ve written an excellent article on Jim Brown, my Black Hero, true activist, and as you say it” …Outspoken, Direct and Unafraid.”
    Continue the work that has to be done!
    Brenda Clayton

  2. Eric Ehrmann Says:

    Jim Brown has always included economic opportunity as one of his key messages and lately that theme has drifted into the background. Back in 1957 Jim Brown, and guard John Wooten founded the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, to promote what would become known as black enterprise. Research indicates that the organization got a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 1968 but not much impact resulted. Co-incidentally, that same Ford Foundation funded micro business programs in Indonesia operated by the mother of current US president Obama. Her supervisor on those programs was the father of current treasury secretary Timothy Geithner.

  3. kenneth d hooks Says:

    Life is B—-. and then their is Brother Brown. I am 59 yrs of age a Jim Brown Fan for life Cleveland Brown fan is 2ndary. Never met the Brother but he has always been my main man. Between he and my father I have become a stand up Brother. Retired and have 4 stand up children and the Most Beautiful Queen.
    So tell mike have a nice day, I am a volunteer track coach for over twenty years some Brothers never change I.E. Jim Brown. He is the Big Brother I never met we will never change. mike you are wrong!!! I could go on and on.


  4. Charlie Frederick Says:

    You need to re-think your decision about the role Jim Brown will play in the Brown’s football organization. I have met Jim Brown many times in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and when he beat the WVU Mountaineers when he was playing for Syracuse. Jim Brown is a principled, ethical and up-front guy and has done more for Cleveland than any other player I can remember. You need to reinstate Jim for the sake of honesty and simply because it is the right thing to do.

  5. Scott Montgomery Says:

    I don’t understand where Holmgren went wrong. Unfortunately, it was a business decision to save money. It was nothing personal against Mr. Brown and it’s nothing we’ve seen before. He was being paid $500,000 with a made-up title just to pretty much show respect to who his is, the greatest player in the history of the NFL.
    Mr. Brown’s racial statements in the the last paragraph of the his submitted letter were uncalled for. I understand the era he grew up in, but it’s time to let some of it go. Holmgren has done nothing to make this a racial issue, but Brown has.
    It seems to me that Holmgren is the one who comes out looking civil in the disagreement. Why woudl an orginization want to be represented by someone who makes those types of statements when things do go their way. I’d be happy for him to go, too.

  6. Before I joined the U.S. Navy, I worked in Las Vegas and had the honor of meeting Jim Brown. He did a sports talk radio show with the late Lee Pete Saturday nights at the Stardust. It was awesome. On breaks, we would talk about football, politics, culture, everything under the sun. He may have changed a bit since then but I’ll always have tremendous regard for him as a man.

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