- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Charley Casserly was so determined to get a job in the NFL that he sent a letter to all 28 teams in 1977 offering to work for free "cleaning out the locker room, anything." Redskins coach George Allen, not one to look a gift intern in the face, took him up on it. Charley spent his first year in town living in an $8-a-day room at the Alexandria YMCA and paying for George's ice cream out of his own meager funds.
Bobby Mitchell, on the other hand, entered the league in 1958 with the Cleveland Browns and drew a paycheck in pro football for the next 45 seasons until his retirement yesterday. When his Hall of Fame career ended in 1968, he was given a position in the Redskins' scouting department and later served as director of pro scouting, assistant to the president and finally assistant general manager.
And yet Bobby's the one who's claiming to be disadvantaged. Bobby's the one who's leaving Redskin Park saying they done him wrong. Sad, truly sad.
Obviously, Mitchell has been carrying a lot of hurt around inside him. Hurt at being passed over for the GM job in 1978 (when Bobby Beathard got it) and again in '89 (when Casserly was promoted). Hurt at being seen by some as a token black in the front office. Hurt at his No.49 being "unretired" last season. Hurt at, well, being forgotten to such an extent that "people here didn't even realize that 49 was Bobby Mitchell's number."
It all came spilling out in an interview with Joseph White of the Associated Press, an interview that figures to stimulate much conversation in the days ahead. Mitchell told White he's "not bitter," but his words suggest otherwise. What other conclusion can you draw when the man says, "There's a good chance when I walk through that gate that the Redskins will never hear from me again"?
I'm not blind to what's gone on in the NFL in the 25 years I've covered it. It wasn't until 1989 that the first black head coach in the modern era was hired (Art Shell, by the Raiders). And it wasn't until a few months ago that the league had its first black general manager (Ozzie Newsome, by the Ravens). No one could blame Mitchell for feeling like he'd been born too soon. Had Bobby played in the '80s, as Ozzie did, maybe he could have realized his dream to be a GM, maybe he wouldn't be carrying around so much hurt.
Then again, maybe he would.
It should have been clear to Mitchell all along that he wasn't on the "GM track" with the Redskins. In the pre-free agency days, directors of pro scouting tended to be secondary figures in NFL hierarchies. It was the guys involved with college scouting who were usually the general managers of tomorrow, because the draft was where you got most of your players. That's what Beathard was doing with the Dolphins before he came to Washington, and that's what Casserly was doing with the Redskins before he was elevated to GM.
By the early '80s, Mitchell was pretty far removed from the personnel end of things. He was more like a traveling secretary, with other duties in the area of public relations. There was no way he was going to succeed Beathard; he just didn't have the requisite resume.
I'm reminded of a scene in "Chariots of Fire," the one in which Harold Abrahams, the British champion sprinter, tells his date that as a Jew, he's "semi-deprived."
"That sounds clever," she says. "What does it mean?"
"It means they'll lead me to water," he replies, "but they won't let me drink."
Is that what we're talking about here? Are we talking about a black man, an ex-player, who people would gladly lead to water but wouldn't allow to drink? Or does Mitchell himself share some of the responsibility? Twenty-five years ago, when Beathard got the GM job here, Mitchell was 43. Was that too old to reverse field, to shift gears, to switch the ball from one hand to the other?
Charley Casserly, the go-getter no one knew, wrote to every team in the league and, basically, begged for work. He wound up winning a Super Bowl as general manager of the Redskins and is now trying to put together the pieces for the expansion Houston Texans. Just how badly did Mitchell want it?
Enough to walk into Jack Kent Cooke's office and say, "It's my goal to be a GM in this league, but I'll never reach it unless you stop marginalizing me and give me a chance to do the things I need to do to become 'qualified'"?
Enough to phone every club in the league and say, "I've reached a dead end in Washington; are you looking for anybody in player personnel?"
You can look at Bobby Mitchell as a black man who banged his head on the proverbial glass ceiling. That's certainly fashionable. You can also look at him, though, as someone who took the Redskins' money for 41 years and then wailed, as he was walking out the door, "I got the shaft!"
I think I know which way I'm leaning but not happily, I must say. It didn't have to end like this not for him, not for the team, not for anybody.

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