SNIDER: Redskins history needs a wider lens

Rick Snider
June 22, 2020 - 11:59 am
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Please don't make me miss Bruce Allen.
 
The Redskins are about to rework their history with an owner who swears to be a longtime fan but rarely seems to care about anything before his 1999 arrival. The team announced it will retire Bobby Mitchell's No. 49 and rename the George Preston Marshall concourse for Mitchell.
 
Mitchell was beyond a great player for the Redskins from 1962-68 who was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. He was also one of the team's first three Black players when the team integrated. Mitchell endured racism far beyond what's widely known. He then represented the team for nearly a half century. His community outreach included inspiring speeches that made you want to grab a helmet.
 
Mitchell is deserving of the honors, but they should have happened long ago. Certainly, before he died on April 5 so Mitchell could have enjoyed them. The number retirement is more important because it's forever, while FedEx Field is slated for abandonment in 2027.
 
Retired numbers have been a sticky subject for owner Dan Snyder. The team has only officially retired one number – Sammy Baugh's 33 – for its greatest player ever. But there were a handful that weren't used out of respect – Mark Moseley's 3, Sonny Jurgensen's 9, Charley Taylor's 42, Larry Brown's 43, John Riggins' 44, Dave Butz's 65 and Art Monk's 81, along with Mitchell's before Snyder's arrival. The owner overrode the ban on 3 when Jeff George wanted it. George didn't last long, but the number has been regularly used since. Mitchell's number was used briefly before being pulled back.
 
Allen was the one Redskins executive who clearly cared about Redskins history, given his father George Allen coached the team from 1971-77. Vince Lombardi started the franchise's turnaround in 1969 before dying the following year, while Joe Gibbs made it great with three Super Bowl championships from 1983-91.

But, Allen made the Redskins relevant again between his fellow coaching legends. Bruce Allen's awful tenure as team president from 2010-19 included the gold pants and homecoming games to re-introduce alumni to fans. It was the only thing he did right, but at least history was treated properly.
 
Snyder needs to do more than remember Mitchell. Not many numbers can be retired, but Jurgensen's and Riggins' along with Darrell Green's 28 should be honored, too. Make a big deal of it all at once. Sell the vintage jerseys, though sparsely-attended games over recent years already saw a large number of Mitchell, Green, Riggins and Jurgensen jerseys.
 
As for what to do with George Preston Marshall's memory – leave it alone. He's already forgotten. The monument in front of RFK Stadium was removed on Friday, though by city leaders since the team has nothing to do with the site anymore. Removing Marshall from the team's Ring of Fame brings needless attention. Many people once heralded, but now diminished by today's narrative, haven't been removed from hall of fames. Marshall moved the team to Washington in 1937 and owned it for 37 years. Removing him from the ring won't erase his racist actions.
 
If we're erasing the past, the team's name may indeed change only the first part, not the second. George Washington owned slaves. Some people want to tear down his statues. Will we return to Federal City once more?
 
The Federal City Redskins?
 
History is tricky and requires a well-measured approach. The Redskins need to long consider overdue moves so Mitchell is just the beginning of remembering a franchise's great past.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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