JIM BROWN – A Legend of HOPE!

The LEGEND, the great Jim Brown sadly passed away today, May 19, 2023.  He was not only the first NFL super-star, who retired in the prime of his career to do what he wanted, which at the time was to pursue career in acting, but he also, unabashedly, stood up, spoke out, and took action to drive radical change in civil rights on behalf of black people, in the tumultuous 1960’s, putting his celebrity status, and even his life, at risk in doing so. There is a reason this man was so revered, especially in the black community, and the reason is, he had the courage and character to say it like it was and do it the way he wanted, no matter the consequences.

I had the unbelievable good fortune to meet Jim Brown on February 5, 2018 at the Minneapolis / St. Paul airport.  It was the day after the Super Bowl which he had attended the night before.  I was in the airport awaiting a flight for a business trip.  My flight had been delayed so I found a seat in the food court, took out my lap top and started working. About 15 minutes later an older gentleman sat next to me. When I looked up at him I was astonished to see it was Jim Brown.  It was incredible to see other current and former NFL players pass by and when they saw Mr Brown they all stopped and came over and said “Mr. OG it is so good to see you. What can I do for you?”  Mr OG – Original Gangster, meaning the first super-star who made all the incredible fame and fortune for current NFL players possible.

I have admired Jim Brown the athlete, and even much more so, Jim Brown the Activist, my whole life. I watched him demolish linebackers in old NFL hi-light films and heard my father and uncles talk about how “baaad” of a man he was.  I read his biography to learn more about him, and my admiration grew as it detailed his commitment to the struggle for civil rights.  And although at times he was a controversial figure, and had many faults, like all of us, it was a dream come true to have him sit next to me and possibly have a chance to dialogue with him. I introduced myself and told Mr. Brown how much I appreciated all he had done for all of us, and specifically how he and others of his time helped make my career as a business executive possible.  We then had an almost two hour conversation that was one of the most meaningful of my life.  Here are a few of the stories, lessons and perspectives that Mr. Jim Brown shared with me.

  • Jim told me that when he was young and gaining fame as a high school athlete, a white college recruiter thought he wasn’t smart. He told the recruiter that his best and favorite class was psychology. But the recruiter didn’t believe him, so had Jim take a Conversation-IQ test to prove that he could actually think.
  • Jim said that there is a difference between Charity vs Change (and you should focus on change).
  • Mr. Brown told me about the Quarter Exercise.  A person looks at one side of the quarter and another person looks at the other side.  They both see a quarter but one sees tails the other heads. It is the same thing, they both are right in that it is a quarter but from too different view points the specifics are different.  Neither is wrong.  It is all about perspective.
  • Jim’s view is that there is a difference between a Goal Model vs Role Model (no human is a role model).
  • Mr. Brown felt that we should stop saying “no one is perfect” because although it is factually true, it is too broad and lets us off the hook.
  • Mr Jim Brown asked me very deep thought provoking questions and pushed for detailed answers with specific examples. He would not let me generalize.
  • Jim differentiated between Money Life vs Quality Life, and espoused that we all should ask ourselves what is our definition of a good life?  Impact on society or a bunch of money.
  • In Mr Brown’s view, of all the civil rights leaders in the last century, Nelson Mandela was a “baaaad man” (translation, the best).  He fought for equality and took up arms in the struggle against the racist Apartheid Establishment. And when they locked him up, he did his time, never wavered and only worked with them to drive change when it was on HIS terms for the best result for his people.

Mr Jim Brown was a special individual who transcended sports by doing what most leaders today won’t do, prioritizing making a difference in society above his own celebrity and his own interests.  He was a “Goal” Model and a friend, and one of the greatest examples for me of H.O.P.E. – How Optimistic People Endure.


Photo credit: Copyright © 2018 Donzel A. Leggett. All Rights Reserved.