When Brown started his career in pro football, the South was rife with segregation and racial violence and the minimum wage was a dollar an hour -- when it was paid. That same greenback would get you a seat at Gate E of Municipal Stadium in Cleveland to watch the Browns play on any given Sunday. Televised images of Jim Brown running toward the goal line with defenders on his back empowered millions who shared Martin Luther King's dream, and let people know that a black man could earn $100,000 a year in a racially-divided America.
That experience was not shared by new Browns president Mike Holmgren, who spent his youth playing ball in flower power San Francisco. But with NFL labor problems flaring up, it might have crossed his mind when he stripped the 74-year old Brown -- who helped mold the players association into a strong organization after his retirement -- of his role as an executive adviser to owner Randy Lerner, as well as the half million dollar salary that reportedly went with it.
Brown said nothing about the termination. But when Holmgren grafted the winning tradition of the old Browns -- that Holmgren himself was never a part of -- onto the floundering new franchise he runs, Jim Brown finally spoke out. In a letter to Lerner, obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he announced that he would not be participating in halftime ceremonies on Sunday meant to inaugurate him and other Hall of Famers from the original Browns franchise into a new Browns Ring of Honor.
Brown says the team has offered him $100,000 for unspecified work that he believes will morph him into a glorified casino greeter, not unlike Mickey Mantle and Joe Louis.
If that is the case, Holmgren might consider paying him in 1964 dollars, when he helped the team win the NFL title that has eluded it ever since.
Because of inflation, today's dollar has about 15% of the buying power it had in 1964, making Holmgren's offer net out as a mere $14,400 in 2010 Brownie Bucks. Using this formula to make Brown whole today, Holmgren would need to reach into Randy Lerner's deep pocket and pay the former star $699,000. After all, by helping his team win championships, Brown added considerable financial value to the reputations of everyone connected to the Paul Brown-coaching tree, including Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren himself.
Reaction to Brown's decision got ugly on sports talk shows and football blogs, offering a reminder of how tough it has been to root out the embedded grudges of trans-generational racism in northern Ohio.
Ironically, these histrionics kicked off right after the World Council of Churches held its international conference to end world racism in Cleveland. "The reflection, in Cleveland, on stories of violence caused by racism and caste discrimination made it clear that we need to 'tame' the aggressors if peace is to be real," the Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala, Executive Director for the World Council of Churches program for Justice and Inclusive Communities commented in a media release.
Jim Brown vs. the Browns is part of a bigger red zone alert at the intersection of organized labor, economics and the NFL. With consumers spending less in Team Obama's flat affect recovery, Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones is concerned about the sustainability of the current NFL revenue sharing model, which uses the league's exemption from anti-trust law to operate a unique form of sports world socialism.
"We will not let economics play any part in the competitiveness between the teams of the NFL. It hasn't in the past and won't in the future," Jones told Bob Costas recently. And in a tactical move to avoid a lockout, the 1,900 member NFLPA is quietly taking measures to decertify, leaving open the possibility that individual players can file anti-trust suits against the league when the current agreement ends.
It's a dicey issue. After Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) discussed removing the NFL's anti-trust exemption with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, she is now facing ethics charges of her own because of connections that her husband, Sid Williams, a former Browns linebacker and ambassador to the Bahamas, had with a financial services firm.
Williams, like Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, was on the ground floor of Jim Brown's Negro Industrial and Economic Union, an early vehicle to encourage black enterprise that was aided by a $500,000 Ford Foundation grant back in 1968, when there were as many tanks patrolling the streets of Cleveland's Hough ghetto as there were when the Kremlin crushed Dubcek's democracy movement in Prague.
Silicon Valley congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is in charge of the ethics inquiry involving fellow Democrat Waters. The amount connected to the allegations is much less than the action that drove the partisan Whitewater inquiry, led by republican Ken Starr, that was designed to damage the reputations of Bill and Hillary Clinton and influence the country's policy towards China. Perhaps the US Congress and Jim Brown could better direct their interests to the conversation about why black sports agents can't crack the NFL color line, which remains dominated by big name white agents. Black coaches and black quarterbacks are a big part of the NFL family. Black agents should be too.
Without divine intervention or an edict from owner Randy Lerner, the new Cleveland Browns franchise will end half a century of influence that was exercised by Jim Brown and his network. It's no different than the Obama administration distancing itself from the big government concepts inherent in Roosevelt's New Deal. Or LBJ's Great Society. NFL owners are investing in English football. Russian capital and all that goes with it is backing pro sports in Europe and South America.
Instead of fading out into the flat, Jim Brown could score one last touchdown by reminding everybody who works and earns a living from globalism that equal opportunity does not exist in the world economic order.