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Jim Brown in blue suit
Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Jim Brown, NFL Legend & Civil Rights Activist, Has Died

NFL hall-of-famer Jim Brown died on Thursday evening in Los Angeles. He was 87.

Jim Brown, the legendary NFL running back, actor and civil rights advocate who would have later have his reputation partially marred by numerous violent encounters with women, died on Thursday evening in Los Angeles. He was 87.

The Brown family announced the news on Brown's Instagram page. Monique Brow, the hall-of-famer's wife, wrote a note saying:

"To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family, he was a loving and wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken..."

Brown, who played for the Cleveland Browns, was one of the NFL's first great superstars. He played from 1957 to 65, winning the MVP during his last year. During the off-season in 1965, Brown shocked the NFL world by retiring partially over a dispute with Browns owner Art Modell. (Brown couldn't make it to training camp because he was filming The Dirty Dozen in France and Modell threatened to fine him.) At that point, Brown was 29 and the NFL’s career leader in rushing yards. He also had a reputation as an iron man: he played 118 consecutive regular-season games, despite being marred with injuries throughout the years.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the news with a statement:

“Jim Brown was a gifted athlete — one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field — but also a cultural figure who helped promote change... During his nine-year NFL career, which coincided with the civil rights movement here at home, he became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport.”

After his athletic career was over, Brown was still in the spotlight. He had a successful career as an actor — having standout roles in "El Condor" and "Three the Hard Way" — but also became a prominent, outspoken civil rights activist.

In 1967, he famously organized the “The Cleveland Summit '' with other notable Black athletes of the time, like Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to voice support for Muhammad Ali, who was refusing to join the Vietnam war. Years later, he launched the Amer-I-Can Foundation, an organization centered around helping gang members and prisoners in California.

However, Brown also had his demons. Over the years he was arrested more than a half-dozen times for violence against women.

Although Brown was never convicted of a major crime, the cases stacked up: in 1965 an 18-year-old woman testified that he had assaulted her at a motel; in 1968 he was accused of throwing his then-girlfriend off of a second floor patio; in 1971, there were battery charges against two women; in 1985 a rape charge against him was dismissed due to inconsistent testimony from the accuser; and in In 1999, Monique told authorities Brown had threatened to kill her.

Earlier this year, when the NFL wanted to renaming the league's rushing title the Jim Brown Award, there was some notable pushback.

Brown is survived by his wife Monique; their two kids, son Aris, and daughter, Morgan; twins, Kim and Kevin; and an additional son, James Jr.