- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Thirty-eight years after he did it the first time, Bobby Mitchell contributed to Washington sports history again yesterday.
In 1962, Mitchell achieved involuntary prominence simply by becoming the first black man to play for the Washington Redskins. He played so well and so engagingly that he became a Redskins all-timer and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a running back and wide receiver.
This time Mitchell didn't have to dodge a single tackle. All he had to do was sit there while a lot of people said nice things about him and a sparkling new football field was named in his honor at Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club No. 11 in Southeast D.C.
This might not sound like as big a deal as when Mitchell fractured Redskins founding father George Preston Marshall's 30-year ban on players of color, but it was. New football facilities for youths turn up in the city about as often as Republicans, and the brand-new Bobby Mitchell Field is a gem. Unlike at many other locales, the combatants won't have to deal with rock-hard dirt, broken glass or yard lines that run uphill and down.
As usual at such affairs, the ceremony alternated heartfelt comments with one-liners. Bob Bowen, executive vice president of D.C. clubs, got a guffaw when he referred to ex-Redskin Sam Huff having been "indicted" by the Hall of Fame. Maybe he was thinking of Ray Lewis.
Huff, in turn, recalled chasing Mitchell "all over Cleveland Stadium, Yankee Stadium and [D.C.] Stadium" when they were on different teams. Sam also called on Redskins owner Dan Snyder to retire Mitchell's No. 49 jersey, thereby stashing it alongside Sammy Baugh's No. 33 as the only ones officially hung up by the Redskins.
Sonny Jurgensen suggested Mitchell might want to make a comeback because "the Redskins' wideouts are so beat up." Sounds like a good idea to me. Heck, Bobby's only 65.
Mitchell joined the Redskins' front office after his playing career ended in 1969 and became assistant general manager in 1981, handling duties hither, thither and yon. "You name it and I've done it," Bobby was telling a friend yesterday.
Snyder, ever the soul of humility, described his first meeting with Mitchell this way: "Bobby said, 'Things are a little sleepy around here.' And I said, 'OK, let's see if we can change some things.' "
(If you believe that, Danny Boy undoubtedly will tell you another one. In his remarks yesterday, Snyder also said, "It's all about the community." Whoops, I guess that's the other one.)
When it came Mitchell's turn, he accused Jurgensen of "telling Huff where I was going to run" when Sonny's Redskins played Huff's Giants. He asked Jurgy why he threw "29 of 30 passes to Charley Taylor" back then. He said linebacker Huff was easy to outrun "because he had that West Virginia gait."
But seriously, folks.
"When people think of Southeast, they think of people who need help," Mitchell said. "I remember when I first came to Washington, I thought it was one of the most beautiful areas in the city. It still is. And the important thing about this field is not that it has my name on it but all the other things you see, like grass… . You can't expect to have a great life if you don't care about kids."
After the ceremony, Mitchell stood around and talked about the changes between the Washington he first saw in 1962 and the one today. In three decades of community service, he and his wife, Gwen, a lawyer, have had a role in some of them.
"Back then, there was a lot of hostility because everybody didn't want to accept change," Mitchell said. "You were limited as to where you could go and what you could do, and it was frustrating. It wasn't until the late '60s that things really started to change."
And change they did. Now Bobby Mitchell's name will endure at a football field in the District not too far from the Redskins' old digs at D.C./RFK Stadium. But how much longer will the man endure?
"I don't have any thoughts about retiring that's up to Mr. Snyder," Mitchell said as the sun finally broke through the rain clouds above his field. "Well, yeah, it's up to me, too, but I can go either way. I don't like to predict. You just might look for me tomorrow and I'll be gone."
But Bobby Mitchell Field will still be there as young men (and possibly some young women) run, shout and play on sun-spackled autumn afternoons. And that's as it should be.

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