Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero

Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero

3.6 8
by Mike Freeman
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

He intimidated people on and off the football field. He was brutal yet brilliant, narcissistic yet magnanimous, relentless yet unyielding. Most of all, he was the greatest football player of all time. He was Jim Brown.

Jim Brown was an astonishing physical specimen with tremendous skills and intelligence. An athlete who played a number of sports at Syracuse… See more details below

Overview

He intimidated people on and off the football field. He was brutal yet brilliant, narcissistic yet magnanimous, relentless yet unyielding. Most of all, he was the greatest football player of all time. He was Jim Brown.

Jim Brown was an astonishing physical specimen with tremendous skills and intelligence. An athlete who played a number of sports at Syracuse University, he ultimately discovered that it was the violence of football that appealed to him most. The idea of physically dominating other men, surviving ferocious battles on the field against opponents who would just as soon call him a nigger as try to gouge out his eyes fueled an astonishing, record-making NFL career that led to the Hall of Fame. He battled his defenses, sometimes his teammates, and often the Cleveland Browns' legendary head coach Paul Brown.

But Jim Brown had ambitions greater than football. He used his athletic brilliance to launch a movie career, becoming Hollywood's first black action hero, culminating in a scandalous love scene with America's sweetheart Raquel Welch. He leveraged his popularity into helping the NFL's black players and becoming a civil rights activist. Never shy about expressing his opinions, Brown would become the subject of FBI investigations and surveillance throughout parts of his life.

Then there were the women. The patient wife who was essentially a single mother and who endured public humiliation. The girlfriends he ran through and the scandalous accusations of violence made by some of them.

A complex and fascinating story, Jim Brown is a towering biography of a living legend.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Sports Illustrated
“[Freeman is] an excellent storyteller...what resonates most is Brown’s fierce determination to do things his way.”
David J. Leonard
A sportswriter who formerly worked at The Washington Post and the New York Times, Freeman offers a complex narrative of a dynamic and contradictory man. He resists the familiar practice of constructing heroes as all good and villains as pure evil, revealing Brown to be "both heroic and flawed," a contradictory figure who was ahead of his time but whose personal failures continue to limit our ability to see his greatness.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
Forty years after his retirement from pro football, Jim Brown is still commonly referred to as the greatest running back ever and sometimes simply as the greatest player in NFL history. Throughout, he has been a confident, intelligent role model, working intently for black economic independence and for the alleviation of urban gang violence. Yet, he had frequent run-ins with the law over his alleged violent treatment of women; he had no relationship with the children he fathered. Can this flawed man be a hero? Sports journalist Freeman (ESPN: The Uncensored History) attempts to answer in the affirmative while dealing honestly with all evidence to the contrary. He addresses Brown's football career only sporadically, jumping around and using quotes from other writers to serve as analysis. One of Freeman's key sources is an anonymous former FBI agent who spied on Brown in the 1960s and 1970s. This deep background adds much to the book, but the author gets a bit out of his league when he delves into the general ethics of spying. Overall, this study of an important figure in recent American sporting and cultural history is an engrossing read on several levels. It would be welcome in any library.-John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060776831
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/16/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
712,921
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Jim Brown

The Fierce Life of an American Hero
By Mike Freeman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Mike Freeman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006077682X

Chapter One

Paul Brown stood on a choppy practice field, hands on his hips, his eyes fixed on a player several feet away. The man many people called Jimmy Brown was stretching on the scruffy green canvas. Paul watched, showing a brief smile, his full cheeks fattening as Jim had moved from stretching to jumping jacks and then graduated to running sprints at half speed. His quickness, despite running at a lower gear, was more than evident. Paul was still stunned, even after months of watching Brown: how could a man his size be so fleet of foot?

Paul had an unremarkable face with thinning hair and a long chin. His personality was just as nondescript. He was an unemotional man, often distant from his players, and not prone to intense emotional outbursts or grandiose statements.

So the beginning of practice on August 1, 1958, was unusual because of something Paul said to a small group of reporters. "There," Paul declared, slightly nodding in the direction of the galloping Jim, "is the best draft choice we ever made. Can you think of a better football player we've drafted?"

Jim was within earshot and could not help but smile awkwardly. His relationship with Paul had started warmly but quickly cooled. Paul would later come to believe that Jim caused the team to divide along racial lines, and Jim felt strongly that Paul had little ifany emotional connection with the players who shed blood for him, particularly the black players. Jim appreciated Paul's strong will. A football team needs a leader. Yet Paul was sometimes too unyielding and uncompromising. "If I ever coach one day," Jim told teammates, "I would do it 180 degrees differently than Paul."

That summer's day marked just the beginning of Jim's second year in the NFL, but he already possessed the confidence--actually, the cockiness--of a player far more experienced. Then again, there were few players who were like him, and Jim knew it. He believed strongly in his physicality, and not just his taut muscles. To Jim, the brain was a weapon, and he decided quickly that being poised but quiet was better for a football player than acting gregarious and chatty. There were often several days a week in which Jim spoke to few of his teammates, even the ones who would become close friends. He would stand alone in practice, several feet to the side of the nearest man, or sit alone on a bench or at his locker. Brown had loner elements to his personality, but some of what he did was also contrived. He wanted people, even some of his own teammates, to believe he was unbalanced, ready to pop off at any moment. Many teammates gave Brown a wide berth and then spread the word to friends on other teams around the league about Brown's seemingly unbalanced mind-set. This reputation, Brown knew, would work to his advantage in games if opponents thought he was a little anomalous, in addition to being a brutish, skilled athlete.

Brown had learned early in his life that stoicism could convey messages of intimidation as well as calm. "What's with Jim today?" was a question often asked by Brown's Cleveland teammates, until they realized nothing was wrong with him. Moodiness was as much a part of Brown's pathology as were his power and speed.

Brown's face itself gave mixed messages. He possessed a caramel-colored, soft complexion with light brown eyes and very occasionally a smile that resembled a confident smirk. Jim kept his hair military short and trimmed on the sides in his early days in Cleveland, like the good ROTC driller he had been at Syracuse. His mouth and lips were full, and his face was usually stubble-free. He looked like a cross between a movie heartthrob and a young, sterling army officer, simultaneously inviting and standoffish.

Considering the conservative decade, the 1950s, in which his rise to prominence and stardom began, women, black and white, flocked to Brown with shocking forwardness. It was only a few years before the freedom of the 1960s, but the straitlaced 1950s were not easily relinquishing their hold. Conservative dress and attitude were still the order of the day in the Midwest. Still, each Brown appearance in public was met with aggressive flirtations and correspondence shoved into his hands or pockets from women seeking a physical relationship with the football star.

When he reported to training camp in 1958, Jim was a powerful 220 pounds, slightly more muscled up than in his rookie season; ten days into camp, he had added an additional 8 pounds. When the Browns used a hand timer to check his speed in the 40-yard dash on one of the first days of practice, he ran it in a blistering 4.5 seconds while wearing his entire uniform, including shoulder pads and helmet, and entering the sprint from a three-point stance. Before Jim, the fastest player on the Browns was running back Ray Renfro, who ran his heat in 4.7 seconds. Renfro was approximately 40 pounds lighter than Jim.

In a second race against other running backs, Renfro won with a time of 4.6, still slower than Jim's. After hearing that Renfro had won his heat, Jim went to Paul and pleaded with the coach: Let me race Renfro. Brown was the fastest man on the squad, but he was irritated because someone else came close to his speed.

"No," Paul told Jim, "you two would bust a leg trying to beat each other."

In actuality Paul did not want Renfro's ego to be mangled, because Jim would have embarrassed Renfro in front of the entire team by beating him. Later, when Big Ten hurdles champion Bobby Mitchell joined the team, Paul had the two men race on the first day of training camp. Brown may have outweighed Mitchell by forty pounds, just as he did Renfro, but he would beat Mitchell. They would race several times, with Brown and Mitchell beating each other equally, and each race drawing a crowd of excited Browns players to view perhaps the two fastest men in football.



Continues...

Excerpted from Jim Brown by Mike Freeman Copyright © 2006 by Mike Freeman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >