Running back Lydell Mitchell, in a salary struggle with the Baltimore Colts, has filed a racial discrimination grievance against the team with the NFL Players Association.
Mitchell, who ran for 1,159 yards last season, is on the option year of a contract that pays him $99,000 a year. He is seeking a new salary of about $200,000 a year. He has refused to attend training camp while negotiations are going on and is being fined $500 per day by the Colts
The owner of the Baltimore Colts, Robert Irsay, said he will file a countersuit against Mitchell, a black, alleging defamation of character. Irsay also denied the discrimination charges Irsay is white.
"I've never discriminated against him (Mitchell) in any way because of his race, color or creed," Irsay told the Baltimore News-American. "Allegations of that type are damaging to my name and I'll defend myself. I've been fair in my dealings with Lydell Mitchell.
"We've reached the bottom of the barrel now."
Mitchell's attorney, Lee Goldberg, said Mitchell has been "illegally and systematically classified according to race."
Goldberg added, "I'm not saying the Colts are a racist organization.I'm not talking about their dealings with other blacks. I represent only Lydell Mitchell in this case."
News of the grievance struck the Colt camp like a bombshell."This," said quarterback Bert Jones, "is the most serious charge he could make against the Colts."
"I kinda thought he was coming back," said Jones, "until this came, "
Two seasons ago, Jones led a player revolt against Irsay and former general manager Joe Thomas that brought about the rehiring of Coach Ted Marchibroda, who had resigned under pressure. Yesterday, at the Colts' training camp at Goucher College, Jones said, "I will stay out of this.
"I don't know what's been said in their negotiations. But to me, to say there is a racial discrimination on the Colts is a farce. Whether there is a ploy or a real allegation, I don't know if it's a very good negotiating tactic.
"Time will tell whether or not he's burned his bridges. I would say with this ellegation, he's started a substantial simmer."
Marchibroda said he thought the grievance was a negotiating tactic.
"Naturally, we felt he's wrong," said Marchbroda. "I talked to Mr. Irsay today, and as of yet, we haven't talked about a trade. This holdout has reached a serious stage now. We open with Dallas, and you can't beat Dallas with people playing at 80 or 90 percent, and that is what he'll be if he doesn't report soon."
Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
Teamate Tim Baylor, a defensive back, said he spoke with Mitchell Saturday night, and that Mitchell did not mention discrimination.
"He didn't indicate there was anything racial in their disagreements, but he did indicate he would stick by his guns," said Baylor.
"I go along with that ID think it's simply a case of the management being stingy. not paying Lydell what he's worth. Even if he got what he's asking, he'd be underpaid.
"I don't doubt that there were statements made (in their negotiations) that Lydell felt were racially motivated. What surprises me is that Lydell is man enough to state it, that he would have the (guts) to say it."
Asked if he had ever felt descriminated against in his dealings with the Colts, running back Roosevelt Leaks, a black, replied: "Yes and no.
"That'll happen no matter where you're at. In his (Mitchell's) case, it might be more than other black players around the league.
"There were maybe only two or three black players who knew they would be on the team this year. There are small things that happen. But small things are important on a team, too.
"We're just a small example of the things happening in Baltimore.
There is no question that what Lydell says could be valid. I'm sure he wouldn't stick his neck out for charges that aren't true."
Leaks and other black players said they felt Mitchell would return if he got the contract he wanted.
"Pay him and let's see," said Leaks.
"From talking to Lydell," said Baylor, "he'll come back if he can come to a financial agreement."
Glenn Doughty, a receiver and close friend of Mitchell, said he did not want to comment, "because this is too sensitive."
Running back Ron Lee said he thought Mitchell's action might be a tactical maneuver, but an honest one.
"I know Lydell wouldn't just blurt that out," said Lee. "I believe it was brought on."
Mitchell's grievance will be heard by the Player-Club Relations Committee of the NFLPA. It is assumed that Mitchell would like to be declared a free agent immediately. It is not known if the committee, which consists of New YOrk Giant owner Wellingtonmittee, which consists of New York Giant owner Wellingtonn Redskin center Len Hauss and Oakland Raider guard Gene Upshaw, has such powers.