Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, the first African American to play for the Washington Redskins, died Sunday, the team announced. He was 84.
Mitchell, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, led the league in receiving yards twice and caught 65 touchdown passes during his career, which began in Cleveland in 1958 and ended with the Redskins in 1968. He finished with 14,078 total yards and 91 career touchdowns, including 18 rushing.
After his retirement, Mitchell served as a Redskins scout and front office executive for 41 years, The Washington Post reported.
“I was extremely saddened to hear the news about the passing of the great Bobby Mitchell,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement. “Bobby was a Hall of Fame player and executive and represented the Washington Redskins organization with integrity for over 50 years. His passion for the game of football was unmatched by anyone I have ever met. Not only was he one of the most influential individuals in franchise history, but he was also one of the greatest men I have ever known. He was a true class act and will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Gwen and the entire Mitchell family during this time.”
Mitchell, born June 6, 1935, grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and attended the University of Illinois. He was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the NFL draft and played halfback, sharing running duties with Jim Brown, ESPN reported.
Mitchell was traded to Washington with Leroy Jackson for Ernie Davis in 1962 and led the league in receiving for the first of two consecutive seasons. He made the Pro Bowl during his first three seasons in Washington. He also tied an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown catch against the Browns, ESPN reported.
Mitchell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. In 2002, he was named one of the 70 greatest Redskins as part of the team’s 70th-anniversary celebration, the Post reported.
Mitchell, along with Jackson and John Nisby, integrated the Redskins in 1962, as Washington was the final NFL team to break the color barrier. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall had said many fans preferred watching white players and would reject the Redskins if they had blacks on the roster, ESPN reported. He was wrong.
In a 2003 interview with the Post, Mitchell said he wanted not only to be remembered as a trailblazer, but also as a great player.
“I have to live with people always talking about me as the first black player against all my exploits,” Mitchell told the newspaper. “I’ve always been very upset that people always start with that. I don’t want to hear that, and yet I have to hear it constantly, and it overshadows everything I’ve done in the game.”
"The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Bobby Mitchell,” David Baker, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s president, said in a statement. “The game lost a true legend today. Bobby was an incredible player, a talented executive and a real gentleman to everyone with whom he worked or competed against. His wife Gwen and their entire family remain in our thoughts and prayers. The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations.”
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