Flawed football great
5/25/2023, 6 p.m.
Some of us are too young to remember when Jim Brown ruled the gridiron from 1957 to 1965 as a powerful fullback for the Cleveland Browns. We also may have missed his attempts at becoming “the black John Wayne,” by appearing in low-budget action movies, which began before his brief career in the National Football League ended.
We learned about his outspokenness during the Civil Rights Movement and his push for black economic independence, long after they occurred in the 1960s. These were the things Jim Brown would want people to know about him and remember him.
But if you were born in the 1970s, you have been introduced to the Georgia native with his portrayal of “Slammer,” a character in the 1988 film “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.” The film is a send-up of the so-called Blaxploitation movies popular in the 1970s and Jim Brown plays a parody of the kind of role he typically played in those films: A tough guy who isn’t afraid to use violence to solve a problem. Slammer was the part-owner of a restaurant whose slogan was “Our Meat is Tougher Than We Are,” and later joins his compadres to take down the neighborhood criminal known as “Mr. Big.”
We now know that off the field, Mr. Brown’s behavior often wasn’t a laughing matter. He was charged with assault with intent to commit murder in 1968 after model Eva Bohn-Chin was found under the balcony of his second floor apartment in Los Angeles. Police said he threw her; he said she had fallen. He was arrested at least seven times for assault, in incidents that usually involved women of color, but was never convicted of domestic violence. Those kind of accusations would be enough to end a career these days. Just ask actor Johnathan Majors.
Then there were the politics of Jim Brown. He was a civil rights advocate, but didn’t like the idea of marching. He was down with the Black Panthers, yet endorsed former President Richard Nixon. In recent years, he talked about his fondness for Donald Trump, who has also faced domestic violence allegations. At least that last part was predictable.
Jim Brown would like us to remember how he played the game. And those of us who remember can do that. But the rest of us can’t forget how he lived his life, leaving behind a complicated legacy that remains tough to tackle.