Bobby Mitchell

Self-quarantining can make one reflective.

Bobby Mitchell died. “Who,” You ask? Bobby Mitchell!  

In the days of black and white television, Bobby Mitchell decked out in the uniform of the Washington NFL team and wearing number 49 on his back, captured my imagination and my heart. Bobby Mitchell was the first African American player to sign with Washington, the last team in the NFL to integrate. Bobby finished his NFL career with over 14,000 total yards, 91 career touchdowns, became an executive with the team and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

In 1962, I was 11 years old and in love with football. That year, Bobby Mitchell was traded from the Cleveland Browns to Washington to complete what was then NFL integration. Washington’s owner had refused to add any blacks to his team, the only all white team remaining in the league. The Feds intervened. The pawn in the negotiations was Bobby Mitchell. But Bobby Mitchell was nobody’s pawn. He was a king who could do it all. He played halfback at Cleveland alongside Jim Brown, and receiver in Washington. On the sandlot fields of our neighborhood games, I was always Bobby Mitchell.

I also admired Bobby Mitchell the man. “Bobby,” says David Baker, the NFL Hall of Fame president and CEO,  “was an incredible player, a talented executive and a real gentleman to everyone with whom he worked or competed against.”

Bobby became an ambassador, a scout, and an executive all for Washington. He was involved in civil rights; righting the wrongs he saw in society. He annually raised funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. As the player who would be the last piece of NFL integration he worked to positively represent Washington and the team. He didn’t get bitter. He kept doing the things he could do. He left that impression on me. Do the things you can do!

I chose Bobby’s number #49 for my three varsity seasons. I was always proud to wear number 49.  I still am!

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