Jim Brown, decathlete and track star
At Manhasset High School in New York, Brown won 13 varsity letters in five sports: football, lacrosse, basketball, track, and baseball. In baseball, he threw two no-hitters as a pitcher. Somehow, he made time to also participate with the track team and was the winner of the Nassau County high jump championship.
At Syracuse University, when time permitted, Brown also was a part of the track team. Orangehoops.com tells the story of a 1957 track meet in which Brown won the high jump and javelin, placed second in the discus, and helped Syracuse beat Colgate. Then the same day, he played with the lacrosse team, leading the way to an 8-6 win over Army.
He placed fifth in the decathlon in 1955 at the intercollegiate national championship. The decathlon, of course, was the signature event for Jim Thorpe and is one of the most grueling athletic events in the world. Brown didn’t win an Olympic gold medal as Thorpe did, but if he had trained for it consistently, would anyone put it past him?
Curiously, Brown shared the Cleveland backfield with Olympic decathlon champion Milt Campbell, who was drafted in the fifth round in 1957, the same year Brown was drafted sixth overall. Campbell never amounted to much in the NFL, however, with a career output of 7 rushes for 23 yards.
In addition to cross-training in so many sports, by the mid-1960s he found himself becoming a totally different kind of star, a movie star. That career ultimately proved to be incompatible with football, or at least owner Art Modell, who was not willing to compromise.
Filming of The Dirty Dozen went into double overtime, and Brown was going to have to be late to summer camp in 1966. Modell could not stand for that and issued angry threats via the press that Brown had to report immediately. To make a long story short, Hollywood won out and Brown retired from football.
By 1969, Brown was getting paid $200,000 to film 100 Rifles, a cowboy movie that featured a steamy romance with Raquel Welch. Being a movie star paid much more than being a football star, which paid him $60,000.
Not that Brown is a saint, on the contrary, he has had problems with anger management and violence, which has gotten him into legal trouble numerous times. Anger is the one force to have gotten the better of him. But just as he was a multi-sport athlete, he has had multiple roles in retirement, including founding a production company called Ocean Productions, to encourage minority participation in movie making.
Also, Brown has been no stranger to the field of public service. Through various foundations including the Amer-I-Can Program, Brown has worked with young people, including gang members, ex-convicts, and other at-risk groups, seeking to empower the disenfranchised in order that they may reenter the mainstream of society. He’s one of the few people who seem able to communicate and even influence the so-called “hardcore” in our society.
You may not like him. A lot of people do not. In any case, he was multidimensional on the athletic field as well as off. This fan believes he was the best multi-sport athlete ever.