For over 50 years, Jim Brown has witnessed -- and fought against -- decades of injustice against African Americans in the United States. And, at age 84, the Hall of Fame running back has maintained a watchful eye on the recent efforts to combat systemic racism and social inequality.
On Friday, the NFL legend and civil rights activist sat down with NFL Network's Steve Wyche on NFL Total Access to share his perspective on what's been happening in America.
"I think it's fantastic. I think it was needed. The events that occurred were very shocking and it brought a lot of people together," said Brown of the movement. "And when you think of African Americans and you think of Caucasians, to see them work together, to see the young people work together, it does my heart good."
Brown is the product of an era where such teamwork was seen as a nearly-impossible goal. Many of the issues he and his contemporaries, titans like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell, sought to correct during their heyday are still prevalent today. As easy as it is to write off the black-and-white highlight reel that accompanies nearly every mention of his name as "ancient history", Brown played his last game on January 2, 1966, which was only 54 years ago.
The effects of centuries of oppression are still felt in modern society but, to Brown, who experienced the atrocities of Jim Crow laws growing up and throughout his playing days, today's generation has a greater chance to shed the weight of the past and build stronger leaders than ever before.
"We sometimes forget that a couple hundred years ago we were involved in slavery and that's very difficult to pull out from under. But what's happened now is that you have a new generation, that generation will be able to surpass those memories of slavery and bring about a new awareness," he told Wyche. "When you see a Caucasian and an African American together or working for the right thing that really tells you that we're in a different era and that there are things that we can possibly do to bring about positive change."
But what exactly is helping to bring about this change, especially as it relates to the wide array of fearless athletes who have been vocal about wanting justice? Brown told Wyche, "These youngsters know that they count, they're educated and they're determined and they know that this country needs them to be able to step up and take a leadership role."
The importance of education is a platform Brown has stood on for many years. From his founding of the Black Economic Union, a nonprofit which cultivated Black entrepreneurs, in 1968 and his establishment of the Amer-I-Can Program, which helped gang members and at-risk youth improve their lives through academics, in 1988, Brown has more than proven how much he values education. He reiterated as much on Friday.
"When you look at what makes the world go 'round, you really must understand education and economic development. So when you put [the two] together, you can advance the masses of people. What's happening right now is that we're starting almost a new movement. You got young people, which you always should have, but you have young people now that are motivated for the right thing and I think they're going to be leading us into this new era of change."
As we've seen multiple times, athletes have been among the young leaders in communities all over the country. The optics of this involvement suggests that more white athletes are offering their support more than ever. When asked for his take on the matter, Brown praised the harmony he's seen.
"What you have now is some young white people, young white athletes who have gone beyond the whole racial thing. They don't look at themselves as white or they don't look at themselves as privileged; they look at themselves as Americans and that they have an obligation. And they look at the African American situation and they see certain cases that make their stomach turn over," he said. "They are out there because they are good human beings and they know if they're out there it's going to be more effective. So what you have is an outstanding group of young people, an era of fantastic young people that are steadily out there taking a chance and bringing about more power to the movement."
Change is slowly being realized in some parts of the U.S., but it's going to take more power to get to where we need to be. As things continue to progress, it's important to not lose sight of the team effort it's going to take to get to the other side. Brown remains encouraged by where things are headed.
"What we have going now is great because it's interracial. It is white and African American and when you get those two combinations together, you cannot lose. Because there's a talent in both white and Black but when they have their heads together politically or when dealing with the movement and it's the right movement, that's a wonderful thing because it tells us that, at some point, it's gonna bear fruit."