We talked with Jim and Monique Brown about how quiet support gave their young athletes room to thrive.
My first assignment for MVP Parent was interviewing Aiysha and Marcus Spears. The dream first assignment. Intelligent, articulate, fun, cooperative, and unassuming are all words I’d use to describe the couple I interviewed a few short months back. What was meant to be a work assignment felt like catching up with old friends two minutes into a Zoom call. Marcus’s first belly laugh came at the :42 second mark, and Aiysha’s wasn’t far behind. What followed was an enjoyable discussion about our kids, athletics, time management and the tricky journey of youth sports. It was like going 1-1 in my first major league at bat and if I suffered a career ending injury, at least I’d retire batting a thousand.
This issue’s interview is with Jim and Monique Brown. Yes, THAT Jim Brown. Married since 1997, the couple share two children, Aris, a rising sophomore attending Hampton University playing men’s lacrosse, and Morgan, an incoming freshman attending USC poised to star on the women’s soccer team. Jim is not only regarded as arguably the best running back in NFL history, but perhaps also the finest lacrosse player ever to pick up a stick. Jim’s style in both sports was speed and strength. He was glad to run over or through the opposition and this style led the sport of lacrosse to literally change the rules of the game.
While it cannot be overstated how dominant an athlete Jim Brown was (8x NFL rushing leader, 9x Pro Bowl selection), to speak about him exclusively as an athlete does his legacy a tremendous disservice. To touch on all the defining events of his life, or the civil rights causes he has championed, well, that’s another article and interview that has immeasurable value. Honestly, that is the interview I WANTED to give. MVP Parent is a high quality family publication that encourages an environment and culture that creates dialogue and potential solutions in navigating the landscape of kids’ athletics. That’s why we’re here, so I stuck with kids and athletics.
“So much of sport is instinct, but I have always enjoyed teaching the mental side, work ethic, and showing up ready to give serious effort. Academics are big in our house, and I am very proud of the students and not just athletes they’ve both become.”
– Jim Brown
MVPP: Jim, how much of your love for athletics began at a very young age while still living in Georgia, and then your move to Long Island?
JB: I always remember being involved in athletics at a very, very young age. Unorganized sports before moving, but once I was in Long Island, all my new friends played sports and I was introduced to fine people that paved the way for my development.
MVPP: Monique, Jim isn’t the only athletic parent here. Tell me about your relationship with athletics growing up in the Buffalo, NY area.
MB: I was the youngest of six children and we entertained ourselves playing neighborhood street sports as simple as footraces and such. My father played some professional basketball, so the atmosphere was there for participating and achieving. My parents were supportive but never pushy with our athletic journeys, and were much more into achieving in school/academics. Softball, basketball and cheerleading were my sports eventually.
MVPP: Jim, how big of a role did coaches and influencers play in your development in your teen years in Manhasset, NY?
JB: Ed Walsh introduced me to the game of football and was really my mentor and sort of surrogate father. Manhasset really had the best coaches and teachers and they all helped in my development in athletics and in life. Quality of coaches and mentors is overwhelmingly important, especially when the kids might not have the positive energy and reinforcement at home for whatever reason.
MVPP: With Morgan excelling at soccer, was it more fun to watch your child play a sport that neither of you played growing up?
JB: It was different and refreshing for sure. I played four and sometimes five sports throughout high school at the varsity level. Soccer was NOT one of those. Oddly, my entire life I have enjoyed watching soccer, I just never played it. I always encouraged my kids to play/do anything they’d like, only rule has been to do what makes them happy.
MB: I definitely had to learn lacrosse and soccer. The learning process was half the fun. I went so far as to become a ref in those sports in order to learn the intricacies and rules better, I was committed. As a family we have always enjoyed the journey of athletics and the life lessons learned perhaps more than the achievements.
MVPP: Jim, I have to ask about instruction with Aris and his lacrosse. I imagine the game has changed infinitely since you played it competitively 60+ years ago. Is there a strong desire to help on the physical/technical portion or do you prefer to just chat about the mental side of the game?
JB: Great question. The game HAS changed very much. I feel like so much of sport is instinct, but I have always enjoyed teaching the mental side, work ethic, and showing up ready to give serious effort. Academics are big in our house, and I am very proud of the students and not just athletes they’ve both become.
MVPP: I know USC is 30-45 minutes from the Brown residence so that is easy, but Aris headed out to the opposite coast at Hampton University to study and play lacrosse. Putting it bluntly, how difficult has that been?
MB: Yes, 30 minutes on an easy traffic day to USC so we love that! Aris and I are very close so that WAS a very difficult decision. I felt that we had to look at moving away as a necessary part of his development as a person, as an adult. One of the few positives of Covid was he did his first year from home, so we had him around for a little bonus time. Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing developmentally as a parent when we love having our children around, and sometimes giving them new and different experiences is vital.
MVPP (to Aris Brown): What was it like choosing lacrosse as your primary sport knowing your father was beyond a legend in the game? When you discovered the rules of the game were changed because of his raw athleticism?
AB: I knew when I was in 8th grade or so that lacrosse was going to be my main sport, it always felt more natural to me. It encompasses all the fundamentals of athletics…speed, power, but it also encourages creativity and there is more individual motion within a team sport so it is unique that way.
I began to discover my dad’s impact on the game a year or two later. I’ve seen video and it’s fun to watch – his movements were ahead of where the game was then. He played the modern game but played it 60 years ago. I never felt intimidated by learning how good he was. Most importantly, he never pressured me to play or play a certain way.
MVPP: Aris, what was the recruiting process like for you? Did being a HBCU (Historically Black College/University) play a role in your decision?
AB: Recruiting was all over the place at first. I felt like I was leaning more toward an NCAA DIII school so that the athletic requirements didn’t detract from my academic pursuits. Once I got in touch with Hampton I started to feel differently. Being a HBCU was both consciously and unconsciously a very big thing for me. I felt an immediate bond with the coaching staff, there was a definite family feeling and it became obvious that Hampton was the right fit…the academic piece was huge. I really thought highly of their business program. I feel comfortable at Hampton, it was the right choice for me for a lot of reasons.
After promising Jim and Monique we’d be a half hour or 45 minutes tops for our phone interview, we were finally wrapping up an hour and a half plus later. The extra time was appreciated. I read and studied up on Jim’s life a tremendous amount for this piece. I watched the Dirty Dozen twice, and I listened to about two dozen interviews he gave at all different stages of his life. I concluded that right or wrong, the theme of Jim’s life has been that the closest distance between two points, well, it’s a straight line. If you were an inside linebacker playing in the NFL in the late 50s and early 60s, you know this all too well.
Taking a hands off, almost minimalist approach to raising kids that are enamored with athletics has its place. When a decent portion of high profile sports pontificators consider you perhaps the best athlete ever to step on any playing field, that can potentially cause some serious hesitation and anxiety for your children to want to even pick up a ball. Quiet support was likely the best recipe for success for Aris and Morgan on the field and between the ears. It is evident that this path was a conscious choice for Monique and Jim. P
Josh cupp is a former NCAA D1 student athlete, head coach, and has competed at golf’s highest professional level. In addition to writing, he pitches never-ending batting practice to his best friend and son, Francisco, and peddles wine at the Thirsty Owl in Saratoga Springs, NY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking a hands off, almost minimalist approach to raising kids that are enamored with athletics has its place. Quiet support was likely the best recipe for success for Aris and Morgan on the field and between the ears.