National Football League Hall of Famer Jim Brown addresses an audience on the campus of Williams College, in Williamstown, Mass. on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. Brown said Thursday that the NFL and its players union share the blame for failing to take care of those who retire from football damaged by its violent collisions. (AP Photo/North Adams Transcript, Gillian Jones)
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The NFL and its players union share the blame for failing to take care of those who retire from football damaged by its violent collisions, Hall of Famer Jim Brown said last Thursday.
One day after appearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on head injuries in football, Brown said in a series of talks at Williams College that the league’s failure to take care of retired players is “a crying shame.”
“The NFL, with the players association, have been an embarrassment, because the legends of the game who have run into hard times, medically and economically, have been deserted,” Brown said. “It’s a crying shame that an organization like the NFL does not take care of their own.”
Brown said he was optimistic that something would come of the hearings, noting that Congress has threatened to repeal the antitrust exemption that allows the league to negotiate lucrative TV contracts. “When you talk about that, you hit a nerve with the NFL,” he said.
Known since he retired at the peak of his career as much for his outspoken views as his football prowess, Brown had even harsher words for the NCAA, calling it “the most ridiculous organization in the country.” Criticizing administrators who live off the money generated by college athletes, he said, “College athletes aren’t amateurs, these guys are the farm teams for the NBA and NFL.”
And he didn’t leave out the players who grab for the most money but fail to use their position to improve society. Turning it into a lesson for the students in attendance, he said, “Never be happy just to be rich.”
“There’s always a purpose that you can have in your life. Your purpose has to be helping people. Helping people have a better life. It is the only way you can achieve quality of life,” he said.
“Don’t let anyone tell you winning is everything. Winning is not everything,” he said. “It is a destination. But in life, in a successful life, you must enjoy the journey.”
An All-American at Syracuse in football and lacrosse, Brown ran for 12,312 yards in the NFL and set all the league’s major scoring and rushing records despite walking away at 30 after just nine seasons. Hollywood was also offering him more money, and there was the matter of appearing in a movie with sex symbol Raquel Welch that also enticed him.
“Y’all might not be historians, but somebody should tell you she was the finest woman on the earth, at least the magazine said she was,” Brown said, apparently warned that the students born in the late 1980s and early ’90s might not be familiar with his career. “Is that correct? Y’all haven’t been watching TV? Y’all never heard of No. 32?”
The love scene with Welch in “100 Rifles” was the first interracial Hollywood coupling in history — one of many pioneering roles he had in movies and afterward.
“That love scene was something,” Brown said with his wife, Monique, in the crowd. “Because the director got confused and didn’t say ‘Cut!’ So we kept going. I didn’t tell anybody that, especially my wife. But she wasn’t born at the time.”
Brown said he hasn’t regretted his decision to leave football even before the peak of his career, noting that he won his third NFL MVP in his final year as the “best cat in the league.” He could have accomplished more, he said, “only if football’s all you’re talking about.
“I can get on a telephone and call around and do things you couldn’t do,” he said, citing the contacts he has around the country through his Amer-I-Can program that works with the poor and powerless.
Coming to Williams as part of a program to promote equality and diversity on the bucolic Western Massachusetts campus, Brown gave an off-the-cuff talk from a bare stage to the school’s football and lacrosse teams, standing with the help of a cane he’s used since having his hips replaced about a year ago. Later, he spoke to about 600 students, faculty members and nearby residents at the school’s ornate Chapin Hall.
“I don’t have to push any program, anybody’s philosophy. Anything I say here will be based on what I feel and what I’ve experienced. Is that good enough for you?” he asked the athletes.
“Yes, sir,” they answered.
He told them, and a smaller group of students in a classroom later, to resist the greed that led to the current economic crisis and also leaves many athletes silent in the face of injustice. When one student pointed out, with some hesitation, that Brown bragged about being the highest-paid player in the NFL and then left for more money in Hollywood, the 73-year-old football and movie star encouraged the questioner not to back down.
“You can enjoy life, too,” he said. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m not a priest. I’m talking about certain principles. I’m not talking about depriving myself of living. We live by principles, but we share, and we don’t cheat.
“This is a way of living your life, living it within the law but living it fully,” he said another time. “So you know that when it’s your time to roll, you’ve touched all the bases.”
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