NFL: Browns legendary running back Jim Brown dies at 87
Former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, who turned a starring role in the NFL into a long run as an actor and activist, died Thursday night at age 87, according to his wife, Monique.
Monique Brown announced her husband’s death on Instagram. She said he died peacefully.
“To the world, he was an activist, actor, and football star,” Monique Brown wrote. “To our family, he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”
The Cleveland Browns publicly announced the news on Friday.
Brown’s NFL career spanned just nine seasons from 1957-65, but he remains one of the NFL’s legendary running backs. He is the Browns’ all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns.
Brown never missed a game, starting all 118 he appeared in for the Browns after he was drafted in the first round (sixth overall) in 1957 out of Syracuse. He also starred in lacrosse in college.
A three-time MVP, Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times. He also helped the Browns to the NFL Championship game three times in 1957, 1964 and 1965, with Cleveland winning the 1964 title. The Browns have not won a championship since.
“Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL,” Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a news release. “He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history.
“Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today. So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field, but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story.”
Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
Brown’s acting career began before the 1964 season when he appeared in the action film “Rio Conchos.” His acting profile only increased in 1966 when he appeared in “The Dirty Dozen,” announcing his NFL retirement from the movie’s set in London.
He appeared in a number TV shows and movies, including “CHiPs,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Soul Food,” “The Running Man,” “Mars Attacks!” “He Got Game,” and “Any Given Sunday.”
Brown also was involved as a social activist, beginning in the 1960s, and he was heavily involved with supporting Muhammad Ali after the boxing great was stripped of his world title for refusing to participate in the Vietnam War.
“His commitment to making a positive impact for all of humanity off the field is what he should also be known for,” the Haslams said. “In the time we’ve spent with Jim, especially when we first became a part of the Browns, we learned so much from him about the unifying force sports can be and how to use sport as a vehicle for change while making a positive impact in the community. Jim broke down barriers just as he broke tackles. He fought for civil rights, brought athletes from all different sports together to use their platform for good.”
NBA star LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the many people paying tribute to Brown on Friday.
“We lost a hero today. Rest in Paradise to the legend Jim Brown,” said James, who grew up south of Cleveland in Akron. “I hope every Black athlete takes the time to educate themselves about this incredible man and what he did to change all of our lives. We all stand on your shoulders Jim Brown.”
Hall of Fame running backs Barry Sanders and Tony Dorsett were among the former NFL stars expressing their condolences.
“You can’t underestimate the impact #JimBrown had on the @NFL,” Sanders said on Twitter. “He will be greatly missed. Additionally, his generosity and friendship with my family is a gift that we will always treasure. Our thoughts & prayers are with the Brown Family & @Browns fans at this time.”
Said Dorsett: “There isn’t a man who played running back in the NFL who didn’t see Jim Brown as an iconic legend on and off the field. Rest easy, my brother.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also paid tribute.
“Jim Brown was a gifted athlete — one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field — but also a cultural figure who helped promote change,” Goodell said. “During his nine-year NFL career, which coincided with the civil rights movement here at home, he became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport.”
Said NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith: “Jim Brown was one of the best football and lacrosse players of all time. He used professional sports as a platform to help others, rallied for social justice before it was popular and became a friend to me in helping lead players to stick together.”
Brown had worked in various roles for the Browns since 2008. In 2022, the NFL named its annual rushing title “The Jim Brown Award.”