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Bobby Mitchell (1935–2020), Pro Football Hall of Famer, the Washington Redskins’ first black player

by Linnea Crowther

Bobby Mitchell was a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played for the Cleveland Browns from 1958 to 1961 and the Washington Redskins from 1962 to 1968.

NFL legend

Before Mitchell became an NFL great, he played basketball and baseball in high school as well as football—and he was offered a chance to play baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, playing for the Fighting Illini before being drafted in the seventh round by the Cleveland Browns in 1958. In his rookie year with the Browns, Mitchell set a team record for best rookie rushing average, 13.36, which still stands today.

When Mitchell was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1962, he became one of the first five black players on the last NFL team to integrate, and the team’s first black star. Mitchell made four Pro Bowl appearances, in 1960, 1962, 1963, and 1964. He was the NFL’s receptions leader in 1962 and receiving touchdowns leader in 1964. Mitchell was a member of the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame and the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor, and he was inducted into the Pao Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

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After his playing career ended, Mitchell remained with the Redskins in their front office, working his way up to become assistant general manager before his 2003 retirement. Mitchell was also a civil rights activist who stood behind Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) when the boxing legend refused to enlist in the draft.

What people said about him

Full obituary: Cleveland.com

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