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Jim Brown, legendary NFL Hall of Famer and civil rights activist, dies at 87

Brown was widely regarded as pro football’s greatest running back, who ended his sports career early to pursue acting and activism.

Jim Brown, widely regarded as pro football’s greatest running back who ended his career early to pursue acting and civil rights activism, has died, his family announced. He was 87.

A spokeswoman for Brown’s family said he passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home on Thursday night with his wife, Monique, by his side.

Brown played nine season for the Cleveland Browns and rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns, the 11th and sixth most in NFL history, respectively.

But even those impressive numbers don’t fully reflect Brown’s magnificent NFL career, which he cut short to pursue a second career in Hollywood. He rushed for 5.2 yards per carry, by far the most of any player for more than 10,000 career rushing yards.

He led the Browns to the 1964 NFL title and Cleveland lost the 1965 title game.

Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali
Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali hold Ali's "Sport Magazine Top Performance Award" in 1966.AP file

Brown was on the London set of “The Dirty Dozen” and was going to report late to training camp in late summer 1966 when team owner Art Modell publicly ordered his star running back to return to America and be on time for preseason drills.

If Modell was bluffing, Brown wasn’t playing that game. He announced his retirement from London.

“This decision is final,” Brown said. “I’m no longer preparing mentally for football. I’m committing myself to other things. I’m not going to play again.”

Brown was among the most outspoken Black athletes of his era, advocating for them to use their platforms and elevate important causes of the day.

Jim Brown,Takeo Spikes
Former NFL football players Jim Brown, left, and Takeo Spikes participate in a sports and activism panel entitled "From Protest to Progress: Next Steps" on Jan. 24, 2017, in San Jose, Calif.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP file

He famously convened what’s come to be known as the “Cleveland Summit.” That’s when athletes like Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor and activists like Carl Stokes gathered to hear from Muhammed Ali and eventually rally to his cause.

While Ali was stripped of his championship belts and he was convicted of draft evasion, the U.S. Supreme Court would in 1971 throw out the conviction, ruling that the government had failed to properly consider Ali’s application as a conscientious objector.