I’ve been thinking about Bobby Mitchell more than usual in recent weeks. I talked to and about the Redskins Hall of Famer during my research for last week’s story about the D.C. black community’s relationship with the Skins. Then Michael Tomasky wrote at length about the Redskins’ racial history in a New York Review of Books piece, which you should absolutely read.
And then there’s the sixth annual Shirley Povich Symposium, Wednesday night at the University of Maryland, featuring Mitchell and former Maryland receiver Darryl Hill. The event, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the integration of both teams, is at 7 at the Riggs Center on Maryland’s campus; the other panelists include Kevin Anderson, Michael Wilbon, Scott Van Pelt, Paul Tagliabue, Theresa Moore and moderator Maury Povich.
(Separately, Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism announced this week the creation of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, made possible by a $1 million gift from Povich’s children. According to the release, the Center “will be a primary resource for research and debate in the public discussion of sports and society,” and a launching pad for the next generation of sports journalists. It will be run by former Post sports editor George Solomon.)
As for Mitchell, “Bobby’s our Jackie Robinson,” Brig Owens told me, comments that reflected how much praise the former players bestowed on Mitchell.
“He was one of the first people that took me under his wing, and I’m still living some of the principles that he presented to me,” Darrell Green told me. “I’m grateful that God sent him here, and I know the struggle that he faced.”
And when I talked to Mitchell, he made it clear just how challenging his initial years were.
“The tough part for me is [black Redskins fans] couldn’t stand me not being perfect,” he told me. “I didn’t have the luxury of a dropped pass, a missed block or anything else. They wanted me to be perfect. I was now representing them, and that’s what they wanted from me. It was really really tough, because they wanted to see me star every time, and that’s just a very difficult thing to do.
“But I did get better and better myself, and that made a difference, too,” he continued. “I think no one realized, my first two years, I’m playing a position that I never played before and I didn’t have a receiver coach. So I’m trying to become a receiver, and it’s all about me, what I can think of, what I can do to make it work.
“I managed to get by, because I went on to lead the league in touchdowns and receptions and yards that year and made All-Pro, so it all changed real fast based on my performance. Two years later Sonny and Charley and Jerry came, that took the pressure off me; now we spread it out and we all played ball. But the first two years were very, very difficult.”
Anyhow, if you can make it to Maryland on Wednesday night, I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.