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The Inside Track | Diane Pucin

Actions of Jim Brown Convey This Message Too

April 06, 2002|Diane Pucin

Over the last two weeks Jim Brown, the football icon, a proud, outspoken man who has been relentless with his efforts to make a difference to young men of color, who works hard with gang members to help them change their young lives for the better, a 66-year-old with the strong body of an athlete and the strong will of an educated man confident in his worth and his ideas, has become something of a media darling.

In the last 10 days, Brown has been on ESPN with Bob Ley, on HBO with Bob Costas and interviewed for a column in the New York Times. With Ley, Brown mentioned his name and Nelson Mandela's in the same breath, though Brown did have the sense not to equate his six-month jail term with Mandela's 27 years spent in an island prison.

A New York Times writer wrote: "Every superhero or larger-than-life figure has a gross flaw."

A flaw. That's what it is now to be jailed for aggressive behavior toward women.

Brown is in Ventura County jail, serving a six-month sentence for smashing the windows of the car belonging to his wife, Monique. Offered a chance to avoid prison by, among other things, doing community service and undergoing counseling and making a contribution to a battered women's shelter, Brown refused and chose to serve out his jail sentence for misdemeanor vandalism. Brown was acquitted of the charge of making a terrorist threat during an argument with his wife.

The trouble had begun in 1999 when Monique made a frantic 911 call. She was "frightened," according to the transcript of that call, made from the home of a neighbor. Brown was breaking the windows of her car with a shovel and Monique told the 911 operator that Brown had threatened to kill her and that there had been a history of domestic abuse.

A day later, Monique said those had been false statements and that Brown had not threatened her, a recanting that is not an uncommon occurrence, according to domestic abuse experts. This was the fifth time Brown had been accused of domestic violence since the 1960s. All of the women ultimately refused to testify against Brown.

Ley says that whatever you want to think of Brown, "he is willing to sacrifice six months of his life to stand up for a principle."

One woman accused Brown of throwing her off an apartment balcony. Brown said the woman jumped. Monique Brown said she told the 911 operator Brown had threatened to kill her to draw police to the house. Really, Monique Brown said, she only wanted her husband not to leave on a planned trip and to talk to her about her fears he was having an affair. Brown smashed the car with a shovel out of "frustration," Brown has said to Ley, to Costas, and on "Larry King Live" two years ago.

While he was handling all of his media chores from prison, Brown was also fasting. Not to protest his jail treatment, he said, but to clarify his mind and body. After more than two weeks of fasting, Brown began eating again Easter Sunday.

We haven't heard much about Brown eating. We heard all about the fast.

Doing his interviews from jail, explaining his principled stand and his empowering fast, it was as if we were watching Martin Luther King Jr. from the Birmingham, Ala., jail.

Brown told Ley he was "picked out as a political example." Brown said, "There is something always that we, as black men, have known is that if you are a strong, upstanding black man, that isn't very acceptable in this country."

He even told Ley: "I have been charged with many things that have nothing to do with women." And finally, about his being in prison: "It's almost like destiny, it's almost like I had to come here because if I come here and do my time, then those enemies will have to say that he's done his time.... So it's been almost inspirational."

Is this what we've come to?

Our flawed heroes do inspirational jail time and become mythic figures of great principle after a series of threatening run-ins with women who have charged physical abuse?

Brown always has been a man of substance and one willing to take a stand with his actions and his words.

As a future Hall of Fame player in Cleveland, Brown founded the Black Economic Union to help professional athletes establish businesses, youth programs and athletic clubs. He also formed Amer-I-Can, a program to help gang members and prison inmates learn the life skills to help them become successful adults. Brown brings these troubled young men into his home.

The sad part of this is that these men, who learn so much good from Brown, also see him refuse to admit he might have a problem with the way he treats women, refuse to give his aid to an abused women's shelter or even try to understand what it is inside him that is so clearly a serious problem with serious consequences to Brown and to the women in his life.

If a man with the moral standing Brown has brought to the minority male community refuses to accept his "flaw" and deal with it and fix it, how do we expect things to get better?

In his Costas interview on HBO's "On the Record," Brown said, "I will never again raise my hand to anyone regardless of what they do to me. It's such a weak gesture. I regret any physical acts against anyone."

That sounds a little like a confession. A small step, maybe. A larger step would be for Brown to step out of prison and onto the pulpit he is so eagerly offered by television, radio and newspapers and to speak about evil of violence against women, about how difficult it might be to acknowledge the problem when it's personal and how necessary it is to stop such behavior. Then Brown can be a hero without a flaw.


Diane Pucin can be reached at

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