- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Bobby Mitchell's retirement from the Washington Redskins wasn't so quiet after all.

The former player, scouting director and assistant general manager, who officially retired yesterday after 41 years with the club, blasted the organization and owner Dan Snyder for a variety of slights he felt were directed toward him most notably the "unretiring" of his No. 49 uniform last summer.

"I've had a lot of hurts, a lot of bad hurts," Mitchell told the Associated Press. "But personally for me and my family, that might be the biggest hurt. I was the first number set aside, and I'm the first one taken off. It was that one word I keep using: neglect. People here didn't even realize that 49 was Bobby Mitchell's number."

Mitchell, who in 1962 became the first black player on a Redskins team that was the last in the NFL to be integrated, had restrained from criticizing the club in the weeks leading up to his retirement.

But on his final day of work at Redskin Park, Mitchell, 68, made his feelings known publicly for the first time. He said the organization's decision to give his No. 49 to tight end Leonard Stephens this year (no one else had worn it since he quit playing in 1969) was so hurtful that it left him questioning his loyalty to the Redskins.

"Once I walk through that gate, if I should decide never, ever to be a Redskin again, in any shape, form or fashion, that will probably be the reason why," Mitchell told the AP. "I hate to have to say that. But there's a good chance when I walk through that gate that the Redskins will never hear from me again over a silly mistake."

Mitchell did not return several phone calls from The Washington Times this week. Efforts to reach Snyder yesterday were unsuccessful, though in a statement released before Mitchell's comments went public, the owner praised him for four decades of service.

"Bobby represents what the Washington Redskins strive to be, both on and off the field," Snyder said. "Bobby came to the organization in the most dramatic fashion, then rapidly quieted critics with his play and devotion to the team and its community."

The Redskins also announced they would hold a "formal retirement ceremony" for Mitchell before the first game of the 2003 season, though those plans could be tenuous at best after yesterday's comments.

Mitchell was highly critical of Snyder, who retained the Hall of Fame player as assistant GM upon purchasing the team in 1999, and said the franchise has suffered from "total instability" during his reign.

"If you look at it from Dan's side, he's a corporate man who is trying to find out why can't he run football the way he runs his other business," Mitchell said. "And he can't because his other business is transient. Football should not be. This league is not so strong that you can't win it all; if there is some stability, you can win it all. That's disheartening."

Though he had never previously expressed it publicly, Mitchell had long felt slighted by the fact that he was twice passed over for the Redskins' GM job. In 1978, Mitchell thought he was going to be named the first black GM in NFL history but saw former owner Jack Kent Cooke give the job to Bobby Beathard.

Beathard's departure 11 years later again left the door open for Mitchell, but Cooke passed him over in favor of Charley Casserly. Mitchell was left to spend the rest of his time with the Redskins in positions of little clout. Despite the loftier sounding title of assistant GM, he had no real say in personnel matters.

With Ozzie Newsome's recent promotion with the Baltimore Ravens, making him the first black GM in the league, Mitchell had little reason to continue his pursuit. He said he doubts the Redskins will return to glory under Snyder, but despite his feelings about the owner, he won't root for his old team to fail.

"If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say no," Mitchell said. "But at the same time, hoping the heck that he can. Because I'm going to be out there with my ear tuned to this. No matter how much I try to shed it off, I love to hear good things. I want to see good things like everybody else."

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