Birmingham, Ala. (WIAT)–“I only had one opportunity to meet Jim Brown and I was scared to death,” that’s how former NFL player Gary Burley described his first and only encounter with NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown. Burley, a 10 year NFL veteran who spent eight years as a defensive end with the Cincinnati Bengals, called Brown one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL.

That day they met in Canton, Ohio Burley said, “John Wooten my sports agent and I had the opportunity at the NFL Hall of Fame to walk up and see Jim Brown and then look back at the great things he did as a running back and as an activist.”

Brown retired a decade before Gary Burley entered the NFL and in many ways paved the way for what was then a growing number of black athletes to play in the NFL in the early 70’s.

Gary Burley has written a book called “Glory: The Struggle for Yards” that chronicles the story of the first African Americans to play in the National Football League. It’s due to be published next month.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Historical Content Expert Barry McNealy said Brown’s was one of those figures in the 1960’s who used his voice making the Civil Rights Movement more mainstream, “when you think of someone who would not necessarily toe the line, someone who would stand up a little taller and speak a little louder” he said that was Jim Brown. Someone whose contribution came at a time when it took all hands on deck to address equality.

McNealy said Brown was important because he used, “the pulpit that he had and the voice that he had,” to influence the movement.