NFL Network premiered their Football Life documentary on Jim Brown after Baltimore trounced Cleveland Thursday night. Because the network and its digital component can often serve as a PR arm for the league masquerading as journalism, I was prepared to jump down their throat if this film outright ignored Brown’s lengthy history of being accused of violence by men and women. To its credit, it did not.
There anecdotally exists an odd dynamic in the media where Jim Brown is rightfully lionized for his accomplishments on the field and for his decades of race activism, but numerous past accusations against him go unmentioned. You heard virtually nothing about this when he rode in the Cavs parade, or the Browns immortalized him with a gigantic statue. This advances a one-sided narrative, perhaps rationalized by an arbitrary statute of limitations for compounded allegations that, if they arose today, would make him a pariah.
Our site’s Stephen Douglas chronicled these this past February (the entire post is at the bottom of this page), noting that there were seven separate incidents between 1965 and 1999. In many of the instances, he was acquitted or charges were dropped after accusers became uncooperative with investigators.
The documentary went over several of the allegations specifically, and also showed some of Jim Brown’s denials from at the time of those incidents.
Brown served four months in jail in 2002 after failing to comply with court-ordered counseling and community service stemming from a 1999 incident where he smashed his wife’s car with a shovel.
“We’ve had our issues,” his wife Monique Brown said in the documentary. “We’ve had some things. He’s flawed, but is willing to change. That’s all that any of us can do.”
“There are things that I did that was [sic] wrong,” Jim Brown said. “And there were things that I did not do, and to try to explain it would be to make an excuse for the things that I did that were wrong, but I’ll tell you something: As I sit here now, I wouldn’t try to think to do anything wrong. I’ve learned how to allow a person to slap me, and I’ve learned how to turn the other cheek. I wish I had the intelligence to apply myself better at a younger age and make better decisions.”
Here is Stephen Douglas’s post in full from this past February:
Jim Brown, one of the greatest football players of all-time, was born on this date in 1936. Brown rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns in 9 seasons. Brown was a member of the 1964 Browns team that won Cleveland’s last championship.
These days, Brown is a member of the Browns organization as a “special adviser.” He was hired in 2013 and new head coach Hue Jackson recently told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that he would rely on Brown for insight. Here’s what he had to say about Brown:
“I think I’ll get to know him even better as I go through this process of being the head coach in Cleveland,” said Jackson. “Obviously he’s a sensational person, humanitarian, and football player. There are so many things to describe to Jim Brown.”
Fellow Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson agrees.
Now let’s take a look at Brown’s life off the field. As a jumping off point, let’s use CNN’s “Jim Brown Fast Fact,” which includes a timeline of Brown’s life. (Everything in italics is from CNN.)
July 24, 1965 – A jury finds Brown not guilty of assault and battery against 18-year-old Brenda Ayres, after an incident in his hotel room.
In 1966, Brown fought allegations that he was the father of Ayres unborn child, though CNN also identifies Ayres as the mother of Brown’s daughter Shellee. It is not clear if that is the same child he denied fathering. It might also be worth mentioning that Brown was married to Sue Jones from 1958 to 1972. Brown had this to say after his arrest (via The Spokesman-Review):
“I am not that small that I need to beat up a girl.”
(Update: According to a recap of the trial by Jet magazine, Brown was accused, arrested and acquitted all within a few months between the 1964 and 1965 seasons.)
1968 – Brown is charged with assault with intent to commit murder after model Eva Bohn-Chin is found beneath the balcony of Brown’s second floor apartment. The charge is later dismissed after Bohn-Chin refuses to name him as her assailant. Brown also pays a $300 fine for striking a deputy sheriff during the same incident.
In Brown’s book he said that Bohn-Chin was jealous over an affair he was having with Gloria Steinem and that’s what led to a big misunderstanding with the police. Via the Los Angeles Times:
Bohn-Chin left his apartment–with Brown’s car–and went to stay with a girlfriend. He talked Bohn-Chin into returning home; they planned a playful evening with three other women.
Unfortunately, while Bohn-Chin was on the phone with this girlfriend, Brown started getting jealous. And they started fighting. And the neighbors called the police. While Brown was trying to persuade the police, at one point with his forearm, that it was just a minor domestic dispute, Eva Bohn-Chin “kind of freaked” and tried to vamoose over a rear balcony, but fell and rolled under it.
Police took Brown to the station and threatened to charge him with attempted murder. While there Brown had this to say:
“And the toughest thing I did to Eva was slap her.”
More from the LA Times:
And he knows that was wrong. “I have also slapped other women,” he wrote. “And I never should have, and I never should have slapped Eva, no matter how crazy we were at the time. I don’t think any man should slap a woman. In a perfect world, I don’t think any man should slap anyone. . . . I don’t start fights, but sometimes I don’t walk away from them. It hasn’t happened in a long time, but it’s happened, and I regret those times. I should have been more in control of myself, stronger, more adult.”
About those times…
February 5, 1970 – A jury finds Brown not guilty of assault and battery charges, stemming from a traffic accident in 1969.
1978 – Is sentenced to one day in jail for beating and choking his golfing partner, Frank Snow. Brown is also fined $500 and receives two years’ probation.
1985 – Brown is charged with raping and assaulting a 33-year-old woman in his home. The judge later dismisses the charges based on inconsistent testimony.
After the woman told Brown to stop and started to leave, Brown spun her around and said, “You’re not going anywhere.” He then slapped her, hit her on the head and in the stomach, and choked her, growing more violent as she asked him to stop, the woman told police.
Brown carried her to the bedroom and removed part of her clothing, she said. The woman told police that Moses had sexual contact with her and that Brown then took off the rest of her clothes and raped her.
August 1986 – Brown is arrested for assaulting live-in girlfriend Debra Clark. The charges are later dropped after Clark refuses to prosecute.
Via the Chicago Tribune:
Debra Clark, 22, locked herself in a room of the house and called police at 4:40 a.m. When officers arrived, she met them in front of the house, armed with a gun. Police Sgt. John Zrofsky said the 5-foot-1-inch Clark showed signs of a beating and was taken for photographs before being given medical treatment.
From a 1986 Sport magazine profile of Brown, republished on Deadspin in 2014:
According to Clark, Brown had been drinking and accused her of having paid too much attention to male patrons at the Sports Connection earlier that day. She said Brown had pummeled and kicked her in a jealous rage.
Clark, who wound up with a scratch under one eye, a bruised arm, and a possible cracked rib, identified herself as Brown’s fiancée and said they had planned to be married the following day, her birthday.
June 15, 1999 – Following a domestic disturbance with his wife Monique, Jim Brown is arrested and charged with making terrorist threats toward his wife. In the 911 tape, Monique Brown accuses Brown of threatening to kill her, a claim she later recants.
Here’s a portion of the transcript from the call, via USA TODAY:
Operator: “Monique, do you need a paramedic?”
Monique: “No. He hasn’t hit me.”
Operator: “He didn’t hit you today?”
Monique: “Not today.”
Operator: “OK. But there is a history of domestic violence, right?”
Operator: “And he threatened to kill you today?”
Here are some more details from a 1999 story in the LA Times:
In the weeks since, Monique has insisted that her husband never threatened her and that she called police just to get his attention, because she thought he was having an affair.
But Lee told the jury not to be dissuaded by the changed story and the “public image of solidarity” presented by the Browns. The night of the incident, Lee said, Monique Brown told police that her husband kept a gun in the house, and that she wanted to get her belongings and leave. Brown had told her, “I’m going to kill you by snapping your neck,” the prosecutor said.
On previous occasions, Monique told police, her husband had choked her and given her a black eye, Lee said.
September 10, 1999 – A jury finds Brown guilty of vandalism for smashing his wife’s car with a shovel during the June incident. He is later fined $1,800 and sentenced to three years’ probation, one year of domestic violence counseling and 400 hours community service or 40 hours on a work crew.
January 5, 2000 – Brown is sentenced to six months in jail for refusing the court-ordered counseling and community service hours handed down in 1999. He serves almost four months in the Ventura County jail in 2002.
From the Los Angeles Times:
A defiant Brown chose to go to jail rather than accept conditions imposed by Superior Court Judge Dale Fischer that he complete a domestic violence counseling program, pay a fine and make a payment to a battered women’s shelter. Had he done so, he would have been placed on probation.
“I took no deal,” Brown told reporters at a court appearance Tuesday. “I’m not going to take a deal, and I’ll fight as long as I have breath in my body. That’s who I am. That’s who I’ve always been.”
And that’s who the Cleveland Browns employ.