Redskins to retire number of HOFer Bobby Mitchell, team's first Black player

The Washington Redskins will retire the No. 49 jersey of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, the first Black player in franchise history, the team announced Saturday. Mitchell died in April.

It comes the day after crews removed the memorial to founding owner George Preston Marshall outside of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. He refused to sign Black players until the government forced him to in 1962, making it the last NFL team to integrate. Per ESPN, the team’s decision to retired Mitchell’s number had been in the works for a while.

It’s all amid a national reckoning with race and justice as well as renewed calls for the franchise to change its name.

Mitchell second Redskins player to have jersey retired

Mitchell is the second player to have a jersey retired by the franchise in its 88-year history, joining Sammy Baugh’s No. 33. The team will also name the lower bowl at the stadium in honor of the player. It had previously been named for Marshall, who owned the team from 1932 until his death in 1969.

Current owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement:

“There is no one more deserving of these honors than the late Bobby Mitchell. Bobby was one of the most influential players not only in our team's history, but in the National Football League. He excelled on the field, in the front office and most importantly in his community where he had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many through his charitable efforts. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known.”

Mitchell started his career with the Cleveland Browns and was later traded to Washington. He was one of three Black players in 1962 and went on to be a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro in 11 seasons. Former Redskins safety Brig Owens called Mitchell “our Jackie Robinson.”

Washington announced it would honor its first Black player by retiring his jersey. (AP Photo/Gus Chan, File)

After his playing days, Mitchell worked in the organization for three decades, moving as high up as assistant general manager. He was with the organization for 41 years in total.

His wife of 64 years, Gwen Mitchell, said Mitchell would have been “thrilled and humbled by this wonderful recognition,” per a statement.

Off the field, he did extensive humanitarian work with such organizations as the NAACP, United Negro College Fund, the Howard University Cancer Research Advisory Committee, National Leukemia Society and Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission.

Redskins take down Marshall statue

The Marshall memorial was taken down on Friday after the words “change the name” were painted in red on the front, a reference to the racial slur Marshall gave his team. He and three partners were awarded the franchise in Boston in 1932. When his partners left the following year, he changed the name from the Boston Braves to the Washington Redskins

The NFL began to integrate in 1946, but Marshall held out until U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy told him he had to or else the team’s stadium lease would be revoked. It was not the end of racist acts by the owner.

There have been renewed calls for the team to change its name, including from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser said it was “past time” for the name change and implied it could be an obstacle for the team to move back into a new stadium in D.C. RFK Stadium is in Landover, Maryland, where the team has been since 1997.

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