Washington’s NFL team on Saturday announced that it is retiring jersey number 49, which was worn by Bobby Mitchell, the team’s first Black player. The football team also said a part of its stadium originally named for the team’s racist founder would be renamed in honor of Mitchell.
“There is no one more deserving of these honors than the late Bobby Mitchell,” Washington football team owner Dan Snyder said in a statement.
He continued: “Bobby was one of the most influential players not only in our team’s history, but in the National Football League. He excelled on the field, in the front office and most importantly in his community where he had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many through his charitable efforts. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known.”
Mitchell played for the Washington football team for seven seasons. He was selected for the Pro Bowl four times during his career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
He retired from the field in 1968, but remained with the team, working his way up from a pro scout to the team’s assistant general manager. He retired from the organization in 2002.
Mitchell died in April at the age of 84.
“Bobby was our Jackie Robinson,” former player Brig Owens said in a statement. “He was more than an exceptional football player and athlete, he was an exceptional human being. He was like a brother to me.”
The Washington football team has retired the late Bobby Mitchell’s jersey number. Here, he is pictured doing a spin move in a game against the Cleveland Browns in September 1963. He retired from playing in 1968 but stayed with the Washington team until his retirement in 2002.
The lower level of FedExField, where the team has played since 1997, will be renamed to honor Mitchell. It was previously named for founder George Preston Marshall, who opposed desegregation and was the last team owner to integrate his team’s roster.
The announcement comes amid a nationwide reckoning on racism sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. On Friday, in the morning hours of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., a statue of Marshall was removed from RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where the football team played from 1961 to 1996.
Marshall’s name remains part of the team’s Ring of Fame inside FedEx stadium’s inside facade. The organization is revisiting whether to remove the founder’s name from that display, The Washington Post reported.
The team did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Several NFL teams, including Washington, made Juneteenth this year a paid company holiday. But many activists say the organization has a long way to go in adequately addressing racism.
The team’s official name, the Redskins, is a racist slur against Native Americans, and has long been a source of controversy. Indigenous advocacy groups and a coalition of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, have called on the team to change its name and logo. But the team hasn’t budged.
Twitter users praised the team for honoring Mitchell, but also called it out for failing to take more action.
“Do the right thing and retire your racist name/logo,” another person tweeted. “It’s long overdue!”
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