Independent, original thought has been made illegal in this country. We’re a nation of sheep, too lazy to think for ourselves, too fearful to stand on truth, too convinced of our own righteousness to consider another man’s perspective.
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Our current intellectual climate savaged football legend Jim Brown this week in Cleveland.
Brown and new Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren are at odds. In January, shortly after taking control of the team, Holmgren stripped Brown of his executive advisor title and $500,000 salary and offered the Hall of Fame running back a $100,000 salary and ceremonial role with the club. Brown declined the “job” and left the organization quietly.
Now, seven months later and with the team just a little more than two weeks away from unveiling the Holmgren-inspired “ring of honor,” Jim Brown is tired of being quiet. He’s not coming to the event. And he released a letter he wrote to Holmgren that revealed in shocking detail what the game’s greatest running back thinks of The Big Show.
“Your ultimatum to me,” Brown wrote Holmgren, according to the letter given to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “was that you would offer me the opportunity of being that of the greeter, that of a mascot, that of a person that would represent special events by his physical presence, and for those things, I would receive a salary of $100,000. All of those things that you offered me would be controlled by you.
“After that 10-minute meeting, I went to my office with a feeling that I was just fired by the Cleveland Browns, because in my mind, there would be no way on this earth that you would expect me to go against everything that I’ve ever stood for in my whole life.”
Brown concluded his letter to Holmgren with a racially tinged salvo:
“Mike, there’s only one thing that I control in life, and that’s being a man. 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.” (Holmgren did not in any way insinuate that Brown was a monkey.)
Brown’s letter set off a media firestorm in Cleveland, highlighted by the Plain Dealer’s Grumpy Old (White) Men columnists — Terry Pluto, Bill Livingston and Bud Shaw — each taking turns teeing-off on the city’s most celebrated athletic icon.
Whoa. It’s 1910 at the Plain Dealer. Diversity of perspective means one columnist rubs Holmgren’s feet while another smooches his rear and the last man in provides a gentle-but-firm shoulder massage. Is it really too much to ask that one Cleveland columnist have enough rapport with Jim Brown to try and put his remarks in context? Jim’s been associated with the city since the 1950s.
OK, before I go further, let me offer you some clarifying background.
Jim Brown is a dear friend. He is the professional athlete I respect the most. He’s the same age (74) as my dad, and has the exact same mindset. They’re smart, fearless, proud and self-made. They’d rather go hungry and homeless than accept a handout.
Arrogance caused Mike Holmgren to mishandle his interaction with Jim Brown. Pride caused Brown to lash out at Holmgren in an unfair manner. They owe each other apologies.
I talked with Jim extensively Wednesday afternoon. He loves Cleveland and the Browns. He does not see the rift between himself and the organization as unsalvageable.
“The Browns need to publicly admit they were wrong,” he said.
They do. Holmgren’s response to this exposes how little homework he did on Jim Brown: "Jim got back to me as he said he would and informed me he would not be attending the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor ceremony."
Jim doesn’t do ceremony. He’s not some old-timer looking for one last standing ovation. His time is valuable. Even at his advanced age, he involves himself in real work. He believes — and I agree — he adds real value to a football organization. His work with gang members and ex-cons through his Amer-I-Can program keeps him in tune with the culture that influences many of the young men who enter the NFL.
In a 10-minute meeting, Holmgren told the most valuable Cleveland Brown of all time that he had no real value beyond symbolism.
“I have a real connection with the young men on Eric Mangini’s football team,” Brown said Wednesday.
Do I think Holmgren’s actions were motivated by Brown’s race? No. Holmgren, like most successful coaches, is a bully.
Do I understand why Brown processed Holmgren’s actions as racist? Yes. Black men are used to having their intellectual value underestimated or flat-out denied.
Go read what the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote about Jim Brown this week if you need proof. Its opinion-makers think Brown is upset about the money.
“The issue is not money,” Brown told me. “It’s about the dignity of the man. I don’t depend on the Browns for money.”
Jim Brown is no Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or ambulance-chaser. Brown doesn’t run around indiscriminately shouting racism. He runs around trying to teach black men how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. He’s earned a level of respect, especially in Cleveland. He helped convince Art Modell to leave the colors and team nickname in Cleveland when Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore.
Brown is old and wise and valuable. He should be handled delicately. He was far from the typical professional athlete, and he’s far from the typical former professional athlete. He dominated the game mentally as much as he did physically.
Unlike owner Randy Lerner, Holmgren could effectively tap into and properly channel Brown’s intellect.
I hope Holmgren and Brown both realize their mistakes, swallow their egos and do what’s best for Cleveland. LeBron James abandoned the city. It would be tragic to push out Jim Brown.