FIRST BLACK STAR ON THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS, THE LAST NFL TEAM TO INTEGRATE, SAYS REPORTERS TOLD HIM THEY HAD TO MINIMIZE HIS EXPLOITS – “60 MINUTES SPORTS”
In a Rare Interview, Bobby Mitchell tells his Story and Jim Brown Recalls his Friend and Teammate
Premieres Tuesday, January 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT—Only On SHOWTIME®
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NEW YORK (Jan. 2, 2015) – Bobby Mitchell endured the bigotry, pressure and disrespect that came with being the first black star on the last NFL team to integrate. What’s more, he even had to accept that his exploits on the field were minimized by the press in an era and a city in which racism abounded. Mitchell, the first black star on the Washington Redskins, tells his story to James Brown in the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS, premiering Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT only on SHOWTIME.
The Redskins of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s were promoted as the team of the South. Stocked with white players from Southern colleges, the team still had no black players in 1961 when every other team in the NFL had broken the color barrier. The federal government finally forced the team’s owner, George Preston Marshall, to integrate in exchange for the use of a new federally-owned stadium. Marshall traded for Mitchell, who was a star in the Cleveland Browns’ backfield with the great Jim Brown.
Mitchell, a speedy offensive player, walked into a racially-charged situation in the nation’s capital. Mitchell said Marshall warned him not to make waves. “‘You know you’re in a political town and you have to watch your mouth and stay out of trouble,’” Mitchell says Marshall told him. “The typical stuff you said to black guys,” recalls Mitchell.
What he wasn’t so prepared for was what he says the sportswriters told him. Washington was not Cleveland, which in addition to Mitchell and Brown had several black players. “The first thing that happened, and I understood it pretty quickly, was that there was no one in this town used to having a black star,” he tells James Brown. “I actually had reporters telling me, ‘I can’t keep writing about you.’ They just told me right out.”
He suffered many insults throughout his seven years playing in Washington, where he lifted a basement team into respectability with his world-class speed. “He came home and I could see the pain in his eyes. I could feel the pain in his voice,” says his wife Gwen. “And he never, ever screamed or shouted…and I knew it hurt.”
Jim Brown remembers his friend and teammate telling him the racism was hard to deal with. “He had to suffer for being black more, probably, than any person that I know that played football at the time I played,” says the Hall of Famer.
When Mitchell retired in 1968, he had the second most combined yards from scrimmage in NFL history but wasn’t inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 10 years. It was another insult. At 79, he’s still healthy and – as James Brown finds out – humble. Standing in his trophy room, James Brown says, “This room suggests a life well-lived.” The former superstar and racial pioneer replies, “Well, that’s the way I feel, been real lucky – a stubborn guy who just hung in there.”
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