In spite of only playing nine seasons in the NFL, Jim Brown is regarded by many as one of the finest running backs to ever carry the football. That nine-year career ended 48 years ago, but it undoubtedly mattered in the history of the NFL and particularly in the annals of the Cleveland Browns franchise.
It may then be surprising for many fans that today’s reintroduction of Brown as an employee of the Cleveland Browns organization in the role of “special advisor” is, on many levels, a meaningless move. In spite of his legendary stature, the decision to bring Brown back into the fold is not something that affects the team in any manner related to the game of football.
In his new role, Brown, who was fired in 2010 on the orders of then-owner Randy Lerner from his previous role as an “executive advisor,” will act as a mentor to players, work to further the franchise’s presence in Cleveland’s inner city schools, and serve as a liaison between the organization and the fans. None of these duties directly affect the two primary purposes of a professional football team: winning football games and turning a profit.
It can be argued that Brown’s mentorship can keep players out of trouble and help them to gain a better understanding of the game. However, the NFL has changed so much since Brown’s retirement in 1965 that it is hard to say how much impact Brown can have. Sure, Brown can sit down and talk to Trent Richardson about running hard and hitting holes, but today’s game looks very different than the one Brown left almost a half century ago. A discussion with Jim Brown will never be a substitute for extra film study or meeting time with a positional coach.
While I question the impact he will have, I have no problem with Jim Brown’s return to the organization. His Amer-I-Can Program, which he founded in 1988, works in inner cities and prisons to teach life skills to gang members and at-risk youth. The Browns, like so many other teams, have come to view themselves as an important entity within the community, and Brown’s presence and experience can only help those outreach programs.
In addition, the presence of a legendary NFL player like Brown could prove beneficial for many of the team’s young, impressionable players. Brown has worn many hats in his 77 years as a football star, actor, and community activist. He surely has numerous lessons to teach the 20-somethings that litter the current Browns roster.
Finally, employing Brown as a bridge between the team and the fans demonstrates new owner Jimmy Haslam’s respect for the decorated history of the Cleveland Browns franchise. Many fans will be joyful to have the Browns great around as a clear link to the glory days of the past. I was obviously not around to remember Brown’s playing days (and neither were my parents), but I respect Haslam’s choice to honor the club’s storied history.
Some fans will surely celebrate this news while others will complain about the distraction of having the stubborn Brown back in Berea. Both responses are understandable and each fan will have to make up his or her own mind about Haslam’s decision.
Just remember that Jim Brown is 77 years old. No matter what he contributes to the organization, he won’t be able to help the Browns one iota on Sundays.