My Friend and Teammate Jim Brown
by John Wooten
I was a sophomore at Colorado and we had just been assured of a berth in the 1957 Orange Bowl. Frank Clarke (WR/DE) - we played both offense and defense in those days - had blocked a punt versus the University of Missouri to tie the score at 12-12 which gave Colorado the right to represent the Big 7 Conference in the 1957 Orange Bowl.
Later we learned from Jet Magazine (publication focused on the African-American community) that for the first time ever all four major bowls played on New Year’s Day - Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Rose – would have Black players playing in all of the games. We played Clemson and beat them. Syracuse played TCU and lost (27-28) even though Jim Brown scored all of Syracuse’s points. Later in the 1957 NFL Draft, Frank Clarke was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth-round while Jim Brown was selected in the first round. Two years later in 1959 I was drafted by the Browns in the fifth round – that was the happiest day for me.
The Browns had never even sent me a questionnaire to fill out. I was pleasantly shocked to be going to Cleveland with my friend Frank Clarke - I would be ready.
Training Camp was held at Hiram College – there were seven of us Black rookies in the same room on cart-like beds. Every morning Jim Brown would be sitting in our room ready to tell us what we should be doing in the cafeteria, at practice, etc. if we are to make this team. I was amazed at how he was telling us what is expected.
At the final cut I make team. I am the seventh Black player - therefore I am rooming by myself - this bothered Jim – and he was always asking me if everything was all right. Later he led a movement that rookies should room together alphabetically which eliminated this happening again. Keep in mind this is at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Jim says to me, “Woots we are not going to march or sit-in, we cannot stand on the sidelines and not be in the fight -
I think we need to get our guys together around the country and let them know how we must emphasize it is about education and economics.”
Thus the Negro Industrial and Economic Union was born. The name was later changed to the Black Economic Union. Its mission was to help eliminate poverty in the African-American community. Our motto was – Produce – Achieve – Prosper. Next came the Amer-I-Can - the organization to go into the “belly of the beast” and bring the leaders of the Crips and Bloods to sit down and stop killing each other.
In June of 1967, Jim Brown called me from Los Angeles. He told me that Herbert Muhammad (Muhammad Ali’s manager) just called. Jim said, “the Champ did not step forward in Houston - they have taken his championship and passport - get the guys together- we’ve got to help the Champ - meet Saturday evening in Cleveland. (This was later known as the Ali Summit). Not a single guy questioned, “who was going to pay for this? What if the team says I may be hurting my own chances with my team by going to this meeting in Cleveland?” Not one person said that nor did it ever come up. We met on Saturday night and the Champ never wavered. “I am an ordained Black minister of the Nation of Islam - I do not want to belong to any organization that kills people - I am a conscientious objector.”
We stood in unison to face the press - we supported the Champ in his stance -
I do not doubt that our government was intending to put Champ in prison as a draft dodger. Ali has proven who he is as a champion. The quality of a great person.
This is also Jim Brown as a great person who wanted to help people - but you must have an organization to do this. That is why we had to come up with the Fritz Pollard Alliance - all of this from Jim - he said it so clearly- we must have education and economics - self respect and dignity.
Farewell to one of the best friends a man could ask for. May God continue to Bless the United States of America. - John Wooten