The Interview: Jim Brown

Ture Lillegraven/Corbis

Now that you’re back with the Browns [as a special adviser to the team], does it make you want to get back on the field? Are you dreaming about football, having career flashbacks?
> I don’t laugh often, but you got me laughing. No, I don’t have flashbacks, thank God. I’m happy to be with the organization, and I really want to be a part of something that makes them start winning.

Looking back on your career, what’s your proudest moment on the field?
> I don’t do a lot of lookin’ back and I don’t like really proud moments. But if I would have to make a statement, I would say overall, winning the ’64 world championship was a great accomplishment, because it was a team accomplishment and we were the best in the world at that time, and we beat an all-star team, the Baltimore Colts with the great Johnny Unitas and all of those Hall of Famers they had. I’m looking forward to my greatest moment one day. I’ll know when it comes, but so far that’s a good substitute.

What made you so difficult to tackle?
> Assuming I was difficult to tackle, I would say that one of my better qualities was tenacity. I always try to teach people, you get after it. And I have a saying: You’ll never out-think me, and you’ll never out-work me. That’s the best I know how to do it.

Who was the greatest pro athlete of all time?
> That is a very difficult question to answer, but I’ll give you three of them. Jackie Robinson was one of them. Babe Zaharias was one of them—see, a female in there. And Jim Thorpe might’ve been the greatest all-around athlete of all time. To me, Jim Thorpe represented the way you do it.

Why aren’t you on that list?
> It’s easy for me to talk about myself and inject myself in everything, but I’m so secure in my abilities and my accomplishments, I don’t need to talk about me. And if I talk about me, I’d want it to be really a long conversation, because there’s so many details I’d want to talk about.

What’s the greatest thing about being Jim Brown today?
> [Laughs.] I’m alive. That’s a joke. The greatest thing about being me right now is my family. My wife is actually, I think, happy. My kids are happy and they love their mother and they love school and they love soccer and they love their daddy and their dog. And so I feel good about that, you know my family is genuinely happy. That’s a beautiful thing.

Looking back—sorry, I know you don’t like doing that—but you retired arguably at your peak…
> Arguably?

OK, definitely. Any regrets there?
> Well, that’s a wonderful question. But if I was any bigger I’d eat you up. How dare you ask a question that answers itself. I was 29 years old. We’d just won the world championship and I was voted MVP of the league. The future [for me] was Raquel Welch, and the first love scene [in a film] of an African American male and a Caucasian female. That was a major taboo to break down. So to regret that exit [laughs] I’d have to be outta my mind.

Good answer.
> Well, it’s kinda corny.

What was your favourite Hollywood role?
> My favourite role was in The Dirty Dozen. I was Jefferson. “Come on Jefferson, come on!” They wanted me to run so I’d get on the truck. It was a very dignified role, and for an African American actor that was not easy to accomplish. But Bob Aldrich, the director, had no prejudices.

Were you nervous when you posed for Playgirl in 1974? You’re laughing again.
> You tickle me how you try to sneak that stuff in. But I got no shame in my game. No, I’ll tell you the real story. Part of the reason I did the centrefold was because of [my girlfriend] making me angry. I have my way of getting revenge. It might sound crazy, but that’s what I was thinking. Then on the other hand I thought I had a decent body, so if I have a decent body, I can pose for Playgirl.

What did your girlfriend think?
> We never got back together to discuss it. [Laughs.] I think the point was well taken.

Is the most important part of your legacy on or off the field?
> It would have to be off the field. To stand up in America as a man and tell the truth and take the consequences is what I’m more about. There’s a lot of work to do in this country and we claim to be great things in the world and we are, but we have a lot of injustices. I’ve always stood up against those injustices. It was in my blood and my heart and my soul. The price was I didn’t make as much money, I didn’t get some movie roles, some people didn’t like me. All of those things are what you sacrifice, but if there are no sacrifices, then what the hell?

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