Remembering Jim Brown: Titan of Football, Social Justice Pioneer

Omar Zahran
6 min readMay 24, 2023

Reflecting on a sports icon that transcended sports and changed the way we look at athletes forever

One of my favorite sports documentaries is “The Last Dance”, the 10-part Netflix docuseries that aired in 2020 chronicling Michael Jordan’s final season in Chicago and also spoke to key moments throughout his career as a Bull. One particular moment that stuck with me was when Jordan didn’t endorse North Carolina Democrat Harvey Gantt in his run for a Senate seat in North Carolina. Gantt was an African American who was going against a white incumbent named Jesse Helms, who was a known opponent of African American issues. What followed is a now notorious line from Jordan where he is rumored to have said that “Republicans buy sneakers too”. The moment was a big blow to Jordan’s reputation in the Black community, but it also reaffirmed a key point: not all athletes are cut out to be activists.

There have been a number of players that have been instrumental to advancing social justice reform. Names like Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Colin Kaepernick come to mind. This week we lost a sports figure whose name holds a similar gravitas when it comes to his achievements as an athlete but also as a civil rights leader: Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown. Brown was a hero, a demonstration of excellence, a vocal critic of the system, and one of the closest things we have seen to a superhero in the United States.

A Great Player and Pioneer

How we define excellence in our athletes can often change over the years. But the truly great players are unquestioned in their magnificence. Jim Brown was one of these athletes. His resume on the football field alone is staggering. He only played 9 seasons, and in 8 of those seasons he led the league in rushing yards. He led the league in rushing touchdowns in 5 of those seasons. He was a Pro Bowler in every season he played, an All-Pro in 8 seasons, a 3-time NFL MVP, and 1-time NFL champion. On a micro level, Brown averaged over 5 yards per carry throughout his career, which is good for the third most in NFL