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Bobby Mitchell And The Kennedy Family, Among Other Presidential Types


Washington Redskins Ring of Fame honoree and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell passed away Sunday at 84.

Mitchell was a part of the organization for more than 40 years, first as a wide receiver and then as a team executive, where he helped the Redskins win all three of their Super Bowls.

Below is the transcription of an interview Mitchell did with former Redskins blogger Matt Terl, which was published July 8, 2011.

This story has been repurposed and edited for clarity, conciseness and context.

Bobby Mitchell was traded to the Redskins in 1962, finally integrating the Redskins locker room and finding himself in the nation's capital at a crucial time in the racial history of the United States.

"Washington was pretty tough. You wouldn't believe the number of places that me and my family could not go," Mitchell said after the media breakfast kicking off his 21st annual Hall Of Fame Golf Classic in 2011. "So it was a real, real, real -- what we called a -- 'Southern City,' and I didn't realize that. Washington is south of Baltimore. I'd be thinking 'I ain't going to Baltimore,' and they said, 'Oh, you better not go to Washington!' But you don't know these things, and it was difficult."

But Mitchell received some help and guidance from a fairly notable D.C. presence: none other than President John F. Kennedy, along with his brother, Robert F. Kennedy.

"The Kennedys reached out to me," Mitchell said. "Bobby just grabbed me and kicked me in my behind everyday, and it grew from there."

Mitchell shared a few stories about his presidential encounters in D.C. throughout that day, and there seems to be no better place to start than at Mitchell's first meeting with the John F. Kennedy, which Mitchell told to the assembled crowd at that morning's kickoff breakfast.

Bobby Mitchell And JFK

"If I had known when I arrived in Washington that I would have a career like I've had .... I shoulda known that I was [headed] for something, because when I arrived in town -- I had been in town not a few months, and John F. Kennedy was president -- [my wife] Gwen and I received an invitation to the White House for a state dinner.

"And we went, obviously. And -- this is not racial, so don't take it that way -- in that East Room was me and my wife, Sammy Davis and his wife, and that was about it for black folks. The place was packed with people from all walks of life -- I could just rattle off names of great individuals -- to be there with the Kennedys.

"And I remember we were standing at the door of the East Room, so crowded that you couldn't hardly get in there, and I told Gwen, 'You know what? Let's go outside the door and stand by the steps, so when the President comes down there's a very good chance we'll see him.'

"I said, 'All these people crowding and breaking their neck to see the President, we're not gonna get anywhere near him.' And we stood at the bottom of the steps, back against the wall, so when he come down the steps and went into the East Room, he had to come by us. 'Course I didn't realize that as soon as he started down the steps, all these people were gonna come flyin' too.

"But we stood back against the wall, and the President and Jackie come down the steps, and when they got the end of the steps, even with the people crowdin' around, he parted these people -- this is the honest truth, folks -- he parted the people and walked directly, he and Jackie, to my wife and I. And he said, 'I'm glad you're here. There will be others.'

"And Jackie shook our hands; of course, Gwen never washed her hand since then.

"Before they went into that room ... and I should've known at that point that I was hooked. Because within the next month Bobby [Kennedy] grabbed me, and we were together 'til the day he died."

Bobby Mitchell And Bobby Kennedy

"At Bobby Kennedy's house in McLean in the early 60's, [RFK's wife] Ethel and I were talking, and she said, 'Bobby, do you know Rosey Grier?'

"I said, 'Yeah, I know Rosey.'

"She said, 'I saw him on TV, and he was singing, and oh, I just fell in love with him. Do you think I could meet him?'

"And I said, 'I'll call him.'

"And I called Rosey out in L.A., and told him, I said, 'Look, Bobby and Ethel would like to meet with you and talk with you, and all,' and it was all good. So Bobby got it together real quickly and he flew him in from L.A.

"So he's out at McLean at the house, and Bobby turned it into a party real quick. And the funniest thing -- I really got a kick out it -- was to see Rosey Grier running all through the house with Bobby Kennedy up on his shoulders. And Bobby's [miming] whipping him like he's" -- here Mitchell simulated riding a horse -- "'POW! Let's go!' Shocking.

"Now, it's according to how you look at that: here is an athlete who subjected himself to a family. Because the moment he accepted the invitation to come to Bobby's house, he knew he was hooked, that he had things to do from then on. This was not merely a trip to the Kennedy house, this was signing on.

"And I found out -- all of those years that I ran around with Bobby Kennedy -- I found out that if you wanna get something done, you've gotta be there. You don't put your name up on the door and disappear. If you put your name up there, you've got to be there!

"How should this young lady" -- the patient hero, a young girl named Taylor Law who had beaten leukemia -- "feel comfortable with her family here with us if the name up there is not here? You can't fool kids. You can't fool kids.

"And when I'm asked 'Why do you do this? Why did you do this?' I didn't start out wanting to do this. Rosey didn't start out wanting to work for the Kennedys, and standing next to Bobby Kennedy when he died. Incidentally, he took my spot because I chickened out and wouldn't go to California. Because I would've been standing there myself. I always walked with Ethel.

"But once you make a decision and you put your name up there-be there!"

Those were the big two stories, but when I spoke to him later, he mentioned a few more presidential encounters.

Bobby Mitchell And Lyndon B. Johnson

"I went to the White House -- and I've been to the White House with just about every president. Lyndon Johnson and I were like this" -- Mitchell held up his fingers close together -- "but he and Bobby was like this" -- hands spread apart.

"So Bobby is my friend and Lyndon is my friend, so you know what I went through in between those two guys. That's daily, y'know, and it's tough.

"But the day that Lyndon, his first dinner [as President following JFK's assassination], my wife and I are sitting there and I'm as close as that pole" -- about ten feet away -- "to their table.

"And I'm facing him at their table, and he's sitting there doing this" -- winking broadly.

"'Cause we had been around each other, y'know? I knew him as the vice president. I knew his little secrets. So that's pretty much it.

Bobby Mitchell And Bill Clinton (And More LBJ)

"Did you know that Bill Clinton and I are from the same hometown? He was born in Hope, Arkansas, and grew up in my hometown, Hot Springs. And he lived right down the street. Now he [grew up] along with my brother and the youngest. He with the youngest.

"But three of his top lieutenants, when he was governor, were great friends of mine. And they was working with him in Arkansas. When he became president, they came to Washington because he brought them up for all of the inauguration and festivities and all that.

"It was just like when Lyndon became president, overnight, the boys in the Secret Service told me, 'Now you can't come walking in there with Lyndon like you used to, because he's president.'

"And I said, 'Oh, well I know that.'

"And yet I'd go up the White House and be standing there, and he'd be over there talking and looking at me. You don't get that close to the president.

"And the crazy thing was, I had a couple that was with me this weekend, and they were my best friends, came in from Cleveland. They came to visit me and I took them over to the White House. So we're in the area that the regular public don't normally go.

"We're walking around, showing them around and everything, downstairs. And that's where the president walks in when he gets out of his helicopter. So we knew Lyndon was in Cleveland, and they had just come from Cleveland, doing something. And he landed while we were standing there.

"Now we're the only ones standing there. And so he just walks in and come in through the door.

"And so my buddy says, 'Hey, well what are they gonna do to me? We can't be down here, the President is coming!' And he said, 'Nobody's with him, and he's just walking--.'

"And I said, 'Hey, this is his house. He's come home, just like you. When that helicopter lands, that's his house.' It's tougher now, but back then you didn't see nobody standing out there, but now, the president lands and there might be 100 people. So it's that difference."But it was something -- he walked right through, 'How y'all doing?' And my friends, they just about fainted. 'The President just walked up to us and he--.'

"And I said, 'He's at home!'"