WASHINGTON (AP) – Bobby Mitchell, the speedy NFL offensive star of the late 1950s and 1960s who became the Washington Redskins’ first black player on the way to a Hall of Fame career, has died. He was 84.
Mitchell split his career with the Cleveland Browns and Redskins and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. The Hall of Fame said Sunday night that Mitchell’s family said he died in the afternoon but didn’t provide any other details.
â€œThe game lost a true legend today,â€ Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker said in a statement. â€œBobby was an incredible player, a talented executive and a real gentleman to everyone with whom he worked or competed against.â€
When Mitchell joined the Redskins in 1962, they became the last NFL team to integrate. After playing his first four seasons in Cleveland, he spent seven more with Washington and retired with the second-most combined offensive yards.
Mitchell became a Redskins scout and later served as assistant general manager.
â€œHis passion for the game of football was unmatched by anyone I have ever met,â€ Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said. â€œNot 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.â€
Retired NFL running back Brian Mitchell, who has no relation to Bobby but became friends with him, said he learned from the Hall of Famer, â€œTough times donâ€™t remain, tough people do, and you donâ€™t let what you go through change who you are unless itâ€™s for the better.”
â€œIâ€™m sure there was people saying stuff to him and doing things that (ticked) him off, but he wasnâ€™t bitter,â€ Brian Mitchell said. â€œWhen you look at him when he was working for the Redskins early on, many people felt Bobby shouldâ€™ve been the general manager of the Washington Redskins. He didnâ€™t get bitter. He kept doing the things he can do.â€
Bobby Mitchell said during a 2015 episode of Showtime’s â€œ60 Minutes Sports” that he understood pretty quickly upon signing in Washington â€œthere was no one in this town used to having a black star.â€ Friend and fellow Hall of Famer Jim Brown took it one step further.
â€œBobby was an individual that was thrown into the arena of being a victim for no reason,â€ Brown said. â€œHe had to suffer for being black more than any person I know that played football at the time I played. with that kind of ability, if he were white, everybody on this earth would know who he was.â€
Mitchell played halfback for the Browns from 1958-61 and moved to flanker with the Redskins, leading the NFL in receiving yards in 1962 and 1963. He was a three-time All-NFL selection, played in four Pro Bowls and his 7,954 all-purpose yards were the second-most in league history when he retired in 1968.
After retiring, Mitchell became active in the community and held an annual golf tournament raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 1980.
“”You look at Bobby, his career was a Hall of Fame career, but I know for African-American people, he was a social activist, as well,” Brian Mitchell said. â€œNot only was he a great football player and a guy who would go out there and fight for the rights of his people but he was also a guy who was a philanthropist, a guy doing everything that youâ€™re supposed to do.â€
Mitchell grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, played baseball in high school and starred in track and football at the University of Illinois. The Hall of Fame flag on the museumâ€™s campus in Canton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in Mitchellâ€™s memory.