In clear, fluid prose, Dave Zirin chronicles the life of legendary Cleveland Browns running back, Jim Brown, from his childhood in St. Simons Island, Georgia, raised by three women, through his NFL and Hollywood acting careers, to his cultural impact as a Black Power icon in the 1960s and beyond. Zirin reveals a complicated picture of a man mythologized as a superman of strength and uncanny athleticism, but whose provocative politics and dark history of domestic violence have placed an asterisk beside his social and political contributions.
In an era when sports legends like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell have been embraced by mainstream culture, Brown remains an outlier, continuing to challenge preconceptions of what it means to be a black athlete and activist fighting social injustice. While his work mediating peace between warring gangs and his condemnation of the death penalty have been universally praised, his subsequent criticism of Colin Kaepernick and other young athletes pushing the boundaries of progressive politics in sports, as well as his decision to endorse President Donald Trump despite widespread accusations of racism, have sparked controversy amongst the sports community and left many to question Brown’s motives.
Perhaps Zirin’s greatest achievement in Jim Brown: Last Man Standing, is that he goes beyond the image of the superman to uncover the complicated man himself, with all of his flaws and contradictions, offering readers a glimpse into a remarkable life that has defied odds (and sometimes physics) to leave a lasting legacy on the game of football and the history of civil rights. If football is indeed the closest thing to an American religion, as Zirin claims it to be, then there might not be a more American story than the story of Jim Brown, or a better writer to tell it. There is value here for more than only sports fans.
This review is generously provided by Brett Finlayson, Busboys and Poets Bookseller. Don’t miss the upcoming event