So Mo was dining with Mitchell when a man walked by their table and said, "Excuse me, are you Bobby Mitchell, the new Redskin?" When Mitchell said yes, the white man picked up Mitchell's glass and spat in it.
It's an image that sticks to me like a nightmare. It's a story I can never bring myself to talk about with Mitchell. Just can't.
For me, identifying a man solely by the team he plays for stopped with that story. What bothered me for several years afterward, though, was how accepting and supportive black Washington had been of the Redskins. How could they have blindly supported a team whose owner thought they were subhuman?
Part of the answer is that many haven't supported the team. That's why more than a few black Washingtonians in their 50s and 60s Mitchell's peers root to this day for the Dallas Cowboys, a team that started with a clean slate in 1960 and was quick to draft players out of historically black colleges. The other part of the answer is that many still have conflicting feelings about the Redskins. It's another issue that only time can resolve. Intellectually, you know that Edward Bennett Williams and Jack Kent Cooke weren't in any way like George Preston Marshall. Williams, in fact, was a passionate civil rights advocate back in the 1950s. But emotionally, it's difficult to come to terms with an institution's history of bigotry.
Luckily for the Redskins, most people under 50 in this revolving-door town don't know of Marshall's racism. They have come to identify the Charley Taylors, George Starkes, Art Monks, Darrell Greens and others as the faces of the Redskins. It's a funny thing, inclusion. The great irony is that the first black quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory Doug Williams did it in a Redskins uniform.
In far less dramatic ways than the Mitchell saga, I started to become familiar with one Redskin or former Redskin after another. I should say one man after another who for a while wore a Redskins uniform, from Mark Murphy to Dexter Manley, Charles Mann to Mel Kaufman, Doug Williams to Darrell Green, Joe Theismann to Kelvin Bryant, Mark May to Jim Lachey, Sonny Jurgensen to John Riggins.
A few years ago I got up the nerve to tell Sonny how much I hated him when I was a kid. Sonny smiled, removed the cigar from his mouth and said, "Aah, doesn't matter 'cause you love me now, don't you?" There's also more than a little irony in the fact that 90 percent of whatever football I know some would debate that I know any I've learned from Jurgensen and Theismann. As different as they may be as people, they are as expert at explaining pro football to the uninitiated as they were at playing the game.
So on some level it's a little embarrassing that men I wanted to throw darts at as a teenager I now call on to help me professionally with everything from explaining complex schemes to weighing in on who's better with the game on the line, Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders.
After covering pro football for 10 years, it's clear to me that the teams that won at the highest level in the 1980s and early 1990s the 49ers, the Redskins, the Cowboys and, yes, the Bills simply had more players and coaches who were smarter, more resourceful, more savvy and more dedicated. It's no coincidence that the same people keep winning. And while there's absolutely no need to turn your loyalties over to any team, there's no harm in taking a step back and appreciating those individuals who are undeniably worthy, regardless of where you call home. Even if you grew up hating them.