Sunday, February 3, 2008

Jim Brown: A Pre-Superbowl Respectable Negro of the Weekend

Thanks Jim for speaking a little truth to power. But Brother Jim, please don't waste too much time and energy on Tiger Woods because he is a lost cause, a "New Negro," Canablasian, tragic mulatto and simply not worth too much of your (or our) time. Tiger may see nothing in wrong in a sports commentator saying he should be "lynched," but those who know better can't help but shake our heads in disgust at Mr. Woods's non-response:

The full text of the article follows from:

Brown not backing down regarding Tiger
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
February 2, 2008

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tiger Woods is not just one of the world's most popular athletes, he's one of its most popular people. He is relentlessly positive, as appealing away from the game as he is on the golf course.

Some of that is his natural personality; some, presumably, part of a calculated (and understandable) attempt to navigate a public life that impossibly asks him to be all things to all people.

Woods glides through the world like one of his shots toward the green; a breathtakingly precise, yet soft-landing approach.

It takes a tough guy to criticize Tiger Woods, to demand more, to square off and to risk the inevitable backlash of challenging such a personality. In the end, you can't really win.

Jim Brown has no such concern, of course, no such fear. His approach to life – particularly in addressing social issues – is like his old football running style. He just squares his shoulders, buries his head and blasts right at you.

That's how Brown, the product of the contentious 1960s, believes it needs to be done; the same way Woods, a far calmer generation later, probably feels his way is best.

Brown recently criticized Woods for being "too politically correct" in not speaking out sooner or with more force when a Golf Channel anchor said opposing players' best bet to stop Woods was to "lynch" him.

"He should have come out right away," Brown told ESPN. "Instead, he waited until it was politically correct (to comment)."

Even then, Woods brushed the entire episode aside.

For Brown, much of the backlash for criticizing Woods was swift and thorough. In some quarters, he was as vilified as the announcer. But as you'd expect, he isn't backing down.

"Someone asked me a question and I gave them an answer," Brown told Yahoo! Sports at a Super Bowl charity golf event this week. "And the answer, I thought, was very thoughtful and very meaningful.

"And if it is understood, a lot of people will go into their history and learn something about who developed this country, who helped develop it, who are the people who made it as great as it is today and at what cost."

Here's the thing with Brown, he asks questions and gives answers that few of us in comfortable positions sometimes want to hear. This includes me.

It's not that you have to agree with him, but simply contemplating his point can take energy, thought and even study in a day and age that prefers instant, simple-minded agreement or dismissal.

But life isn't "Hannity & Colmes."

Brown's point is that in the fade of history the true meaning of lynching had been forgotten.

"Lynching was the weapon of the greatest terrorist group in this country, the Ku Klux Klan," he said. "That was their weapon of choice. So if you don't know that, then you should really become educated because a lot of people have suffered many years because of the sickness of that terrorist organization."

To Brown "evil is evil." To joke about lynching is no different than joking about a hijacked plane on 9-11 orphaning a child, a roadside bomb in Fallujah taking out a Marine's knees, or an explosive-packed car murdering innocent shoppers in some far off land.

It's not just about race, it's about rememberance and perspective. It's a point that, at the very least, makes you stop and think.

Woods has been criticized for not being as socially outspoken as many great athletes of Brown's era. Clearly, Woods has the kind of immense power that was unattainable a generation ago.

His response is that he is socially active through his charities, which is a fair point. And he certainly doesn't have to apologize for not being Jim Brown or thinking like Jim Brown.

Brown has no more the final say on this than anyone else. If Woods thought Kelly Tilghman's two-week suspension was enough and this was, indeed, no big deal, then that's fine.

But Brown certainly can have a say. The worst thing that happened from the lynching fallout was some of the instantaneous, outright dismissal of everything Brown and others articulated.

The powers that be, especially in golf, wanted no part of looking in their sport's historical (or current) mirror. So they rallied with a simple message, "Just move on, it's no big deal, just an innocent mistake."

It would seem that at least some in the golf establishment and some of its lock-step media were as angry with Golf Week at attempting to continue the debate than the magazine's terrible choice of cover art.

But that's always the moneyed-power reaction; kill all discussion, protect the status quo. Woods – knowingly or not, purposefully or not – became their perfect spokesman on the issue.

That's Tiger's right, of course. But doing what Brown demanded – examining the past, educating people to history, challenging Woods' approach and opinion – can never be a bad thing either. Even if it becomes rarer and rarer in a sports world now mostly devoid of socially outspoken stars.

"(Athletes don't speak out today) because the most difficult part of the struggle is over," Brown said. "Now an African-American athlete can enjoy pretty much everything that everyone else can enjoy.

"When you are in an era when you can utilize the fruits of someone else's labor, it takes a thoughtful person to think the battle still goes on, the struggle still goes on and there (are) still barriers that we still have to break down."

At age 71, Brown refuses to stop challenging athletes to think about the world outside of endorsements, parties and public relations. No matter how much it costs him in all of those things.

"That's the life I live," he said. "The life I live is to try to be a part of change. A lot of youngsters, once they become educated they become advocates. They really try to do the right thing."

It's too simplistic to say Brown's approach is always right or always wrong; just as it would be to say about Woods'. Both have their merits.

Here's what is wrong in discussing race in America: taking the easy route and just say be quiet, just say it's over and no one cares anymore, to just say the other side's opinion has no merit or meaning.

The thing is, it takes courage to listen.

Jim Brown, no doubt, has that courage; the courage to fight even against an overwhelmingly popular conventional wisdom articulated by no less than Tiger Woods.

Maybe, in the end, he changed few minds in golf or anywhere else, but America remains a better place because Jim Brown, all these years later, keeps trying to fight these mostly un-winnable fights.

For all his faults, Jim Brown was, and is, one hell of a man:

Thanks again Jim.


Shawn L. said...

Tiger Woods is just another in a long line of respectable Negro athletes who "just wanna play" and endear themselves to their white sponsors by totally sidestepping issues of race and exploitation. Prominent black athletes taking a stand pretty much dried up after Muhammad Ali.

I'm still waiting on Michael Jordan to develop a backbone and call out the sweatshop practices of his various sponsors. I NEVER wanted to be like Mike.

deva said...

My favorite story about Jim Brown is the one that Richard Pryor tells in his Sunset Strip stand-up. In which, Pryor is laying in the hospital burned on 80% of his body because he'd been freebasing cocaine like an idiot. All these people come in and offer their concern, their pity, their worry, etc. and Jim Brown, walks in and says, regarding his drugging and the sorry state it's put him in simply says to him: "Whatchya gonna do, Richard?" Always seemed to me to be the mark of a wise man and true friend.

Course, all my knowledge about Jim Brown comes from this story. Not having been aware of pop culture when he was famous and not being a football geek by any stretch of the imagination.

gordon gartrelle said...


Jim Brown is a fascinating (and problematic) figure. Brown was not only politically outspoken and the greatest RB ever, In his prime, he was the the living embodiment of the black buck stereotype. He radiated so much sexual energy that male sportswriters would talk about his "Godlike" chiseled body and all of the women he bedded. He also posed for Playgirl in the '70s. Not surprisingly, Brown has all kinds of issues with women, including several rape and domestic violence charges that he beat or had dropped.

Spike Lee's documentary Jim Brown: All-American offers a great intro to his life and his impact on pop culture. It's worth checking out.

vallestone said...

Jim Brown, should shut the hell up. Kelly Tillman was in the middle of banter about Tiger when Nick Faldo commented about taking Tiger out back with a few of the boys and roughing him up, and kelly said Yea, string him up. There was no malice intended. And as far as athelete's that are black getting to do the normal things today, that's a crock of shit. These guys commit crimes beat women, rape, murder and do drugs get caught and get nothing.Oh and get paid millions and are broke a year after they retire. As soon as Jim Brown can cut a check for half as much money as Tiger has for other people and charity's then he can talk shit, until then he's just another poor Negro collecting a check from his white boss.

Shivakumar Selvaraj said...

You dismiss the Woods incident as not racist and then say 'Poor Negro'.
Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.