By Marcus Huerta, Pro Football Hall of Fame
Many people play sports – some play in college and a few in NCAA Division I.
Jim Brown was in a category of his own, lettering 10 times in four sports — football, lacrosse, basketball and track — at Syracuse University. Two of those sports are where he made a name for himself.
To many, Brown was a football player who did it all as a running back for the Cleveland Browns. He rushed, caught passes, returned kicks and even threw for three touchdowns in his career. Those accomplishments landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Most forget his passion for, “the creator’s game” or “the game of medicine,” lacrosse. In 1984, Brown told the New York Times, “Lacrosse is probably the best sport I ever played.”
Photo from AP Images, shows Jim Brown before his last game at Syracuse
Lacrosse dates to the 1630s, when Native Americans started a game called stickball. Equipment consisted of wooden balls and sticks, with players distinguishing themselves through paint and charcoal.
Brown started playing at Manhasset High School in New York. A midfielder, he used his arsenal of speed, agility and toughness to earn him three All-Star honors. He went on to play at Syracuse, becoming a two-time All-American – 1956 and 1957. As a senior in 1957, he scored 64 points and was ranked second in the nation with 43 goals.
He led the Orangemen to an undefeated season with a record of 10-0. His brightest moment came in the 1957 North-South All-Star Game, when he scored five goals in the first half. Brown’s performance at Syracuse earned him a spot in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, as the first African American to be inducted, in 1983.
Kyle Harrison, a star in the Premier Lacrosse League and head of its diversity and inclusiveness, has followed Brown closely as a lacrosse player.
“When I was younger, I would hear stories about the great Jim Brown’s incredible playing career from my father,” Harrison, a Redwoods LC midfielder, shared in a recent interview. “Fast forward to now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with Mr. Brown and his family on multiple occasions to talk about the sport, life, and best of all, hear his incredible stories first hand.”
Brown’s play on the field was just a fraction of his impact on the game of lacrosse. He was the first African American superstar in the game and broke its color barrier.
“Last year at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles,” Harrison said, Brown “explained the importance of lacrosse throughout his life and explained how the memories of playing decades ago still resonate with him to this day. As a black lacrosse player, having someone to point to (other than just my father) who played this sport at the highest level, has always given me strength and confidence to chase my dreams in this sport.”
Brown also is credited with defining the game the way it is played to this day — often called “the fastest game on two feet.”
In 2011, Brown was recognized with the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse, the Tewaaraton Legend Award. Jeff Harvey, chairman of the Tewaaraton Committee, told the website Cuse.com in 2011: “Jim Brown was an extraordinary lacrosse player that helped define the modern game.”
A standard for running backs in the National Football League, he also was the standard for midfielders in the game of lacrosse.
In the past decade, Brown has made himself present in the lacrosse world. In 2012, he participated in the purchase of Major League Lacrosse’s New York Lizards.
Recently, the PLL partnered with Brown, who serves as an ambassador/adviser for the league. The PLL, established in 2019, is a tour-based lacrosse league founded by brothers Mike and Paul Rabil.
Jim Brown and Paul Rabil
Brown helps with the league’s PLL Assist Program, an initiative to help build more inclusive, empathetic and healthy communities. This Sunday on NBC, at 12:30 p.m. (ET), the PLL will determine its 2020 Championship Series winner, as well as the winner of the Jim Brown Most Valuable Player Award.
“Jim Brown is and always will be one of the most influential and decorated figures to the sport of lacrosse,” said Mike Rabil, co-Founder and CEO of the PLL. “We are continuously honored to have Mr. Brown serve as an official advisor to our league, where he regularly lends a guiding voice to Paul (Rabil) and me.
“To this day, Mr. Brown remains an incredible advocate for the game; naming our MVP trophy after him was a natural decision for the sport and the PLL.”
Matt Rambo Awarded the PLL Jim Brown MVP Award in 2019
One man, two sports; Jim Brown is arguably the best to play football and lacrosse.
Marcus Huerta, an avid lacrosse fan and player, is completing his summer internship at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He soon will be graduating from Boise State University.
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