By Ronald Guy
Before the 1962 season, the Washington Redskins acquired versatile four-year pro Bobby Mitchell from the Cleveland Browns. Mitchell’s arrival in D.C. was significant because he was one of three (and certainly the most renowned) African Americans to play for the Washington Redskins in 1962. And why is that significant? Well, because 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB and seven years after the ‘Skins — the pro football team in the nation’s capital — were left shamefully isolated as the last segregated NFL team, the team’s leadership, at the “urging” of the federal government, finally got around to integrating its roster. Think about that: In 1962, just a year before Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, no African American had played for the NFL team in Washington, D.C., the city supposedly most embodying the promises of its Declaration, including that “all men are created equal.”
Skin color and disgraceful team history aside, Mitchell was a bona fide star and had an immediate impact on the field as a wide receiver and kick returner. He didn’t play on a lot of good teams, but with fellow Hall-of-Famers Sonny Jurgensen and Charley Taylor, the ‘Skins were an offensive force in the late 1960s. Mitchell moved to the Redskins' front office immediately after his retirement in 1968 where he remained in various roles until 2003.
Mitchell was the easiest choice for this list. Having a beer with Mitchell seems like a completely inadequate allotment of time. I’d like to spend a couple days with Bobby Mitchell; the questions would start and never stop. What was his reaction to being traded to the segregated Washington Redskins? What were the most difficult parts of that transition? Were there any pleasant surprises? Was it burdensome or was he able to embrace his significance in team and American history? I’d also be curious to know his opinion on the team’s nickname (off the record).
What’s the one thing I’d most want to know? All of it! Mitchell’s the one conversation with a ‘Skins player I’d most enjoy, so I’m going to be greedy. Mitchell wasn’t the greatest player in team history, but in many ways he was the team’s most important player. In the event I get the opportunity to chat with the legend over a beer, I’ll make a note to drink very slowly.