NFL Redskins retire jersey of racial pioneer Mitchell


Washington (AFP)

Bobby Mitchell, the first black player on the last NFL team to integrate its roster, will have his number 49 jersey retired by the Washington Redskins, the club announced Saturday.

The lower half of the Redskins' home stadium, FedEx Field, will be renamed in honor of Mitchell, who died in April at age 84, a team statement said.

The move comes a day after a large statue paying tribute to founding Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was removed from the front of RFK Stadium in Washington, the Redskins' former home venue.

Marshall was pressured into signing black players by US lawmakers, who threatened his lease at the then-new stadium if he did not join all other NFL clubs and integrate his roster.

Marshall traded 1962 NFL Draft top pick Ernie Davis to Cleveland in a deal for Mitchell, who led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards in his first season with the Redskins.

In 1963, Mitchell again led the league in receiving yards and the following season, he led the NFL in touchdown catches.

After four seasons with the Browns, Mitchell played from 1962-1968 with the Redskins before retiring. He stayed with the organization, first as a scout then working his way up to assistant general manager before leaving the club in 2003.

"There's no one more deserving of these honors than the late Bobby Mitchell," Redskins owner Dan Snyder said. "Bobby was one of the most influential players not only in our team's history, but in the NFL.

"He was one of the greatest men I've ever known."

Mitchell's jersey will be retired at a future Redskins home game.

In 148 career NFL games, Mitchell ran for 2,735 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 521 passes for 7,954 yards and 65 touchdowns and had 3,389 yards with eight touchdowns on kick returns.

He was inducted into the American Football Hall of Fame in 1983.