Doing It His Way

By Terry Pluto
Updated: September 1, 2010

CLEVELAND — In 1999, Jim Brown was convicted of vandalizing his wife’s car. He also was charged with “making” terrorist threats to her, a charge later dropped.

The court gave Brown the option of doing community service and receiving counseling, rather than doing jail time. He refused, taking the six-month jail sentence, released after four months. While in jail, he went on a hunger strike for two weeks.

That was in 2002, when he was 66 years old.

Wise or not, Jim Brown did it his way.

As Mike Freeman wrote in 2002 in the New York Times: “He said he chose jail instead of complying with probation requests because the judge’s sentencing ‘was wrong, mean-spirited and not justice … They offered me three deals … and I refused.'”

Last Friday, I wrote that Browns owner Randy Lerner should arrange a meeting with team president Mike Holmgren and Brown, hoping to find a way in which Brown joins the other Hall of Famers at the team’s Ring of Honor ceremony on Sept. 19 at Browns Stadium.

It’s still a decent idea, but it’s doubtful anything will change — even if Lerner actually had the boldness and strong will needed to bring these two men together.

Brown’s letter to Holmgren explains why there is a break between the two men. The Hall of Famer did the Browns a huge favor by leaking the letter to the media, because it’s a window into why the Browns have decided to back away from their former star.

It oozes the same anger that Brown has shown dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, when he was the NFL’s greatest running back. Brown experienced Jim Crow’s racism in his early youth in St. Simmons, Ga. He later felt it in the 1950s, being barred from some hotels and restaurants.

Ever since then, he’s viewed the world as black and white. His letter with highly-charged racial terms tries to transform his break with the Browns in those terms.

One problem is Paul Warfield, his former teammate who left his advisory position with the Browns this spring, partly to deal with some illness in his family. The Browns have offered Warfield the chance to come back at any time.

It’s sad that it must be pointed out that Warfield is black. Or that Brown dismissed Warfield in his letter, refusing to name him, “One [at the Ring of Honor press conference] made the statement that he was overwhelmed to be honored, and the other started talking about a subject that was highly important, and that was the pension plan …”

Brown then named Joe DeLamielleure, who has been pushing for the worthy cause of more medical and retirement benefits for former players.

But he ignored that fact that DeLamielleure gushed about being honored, and was excited that his eight grandchildren would be at the ceremony.

If Jim Brown really wanted to point the spotlight on former players, a great way would be at a press conference with several former Browns at the Ring of Honor weekend when the media is focused on them.

The weekend also would be a tremendous opportunity for Brown to connect with former teammates Mike McCormack, Leroy Kelly, Bobby Mitchell and Warfield. None of them are getting any younger.

As for the fans, Brown never mentions them in his letter. Make of that what you will. The Ring of Honor is for the fans and the former players. The team should have done this years ago.

Brown could have taken the moral high road by saying, “I don’t agree with how the Browns are treating me, but I am here for my teammates, the fans and to say the NFL and the union must do a better job to taking care of the men who played the game and are now hurting physically and emotionally.”

By turning that down, Brown may believe it’s a principled stand, but it actually comes off a bit selfish.

He is upset that he no longer has the title of “executive advisor” with the team. In the last several years, he was paid between $250,000 and $500,000 annually to hang around with Randy Lerner and sometimes talk to the players at the request of the coaches.

Holmgren offered him $100,000 for a lesser role in the organization, “to be controlled by you,” as Brown wrote in the letter to Holmgren.

The fact is that when you work for someone, you are controlled by them — at least to some extent. That’s why they pay you. It’s very hard to find any sympathy with Brown’s hints of mistreatment by the team.

It’s Brown’s right to refuse the new position. It’s his decision to skip the Ring of Honor ceremony. But it’s dead wrong to claim Holmgren said anything approaching “One monkey don’t stop the show” at the Ring of Honor press conference.

It’s bizarre that Brown concluded, “So let me end with a little humor, because as you say, one monkey don’t stop the show, and as I say ‘Willie Lynch missed a few of us’, and there will be no Buck Dancing.”

No one is trying to hurt Jim Brown or make him dance to their tune.

They actually want to honor him — perhaps one last time, but it’s doubtful he’ll ever see it that way.

In 2002, Brown elected to go to jail rather than counseling. He would rather be locked up in a cell of his own emotions, wounds and rage. In many ways on an emotional level, he is doing the same thing again.