Warren Moon

One of my few indulgences is the Canadian Football League on TV. I have invested several summers and falls, watching every CFL game—taking about 15 hours of my weekend away. And the irony of this Canadian sport is that the CFL is about nine Canadian cities trying to prove which of them has the best Americans.


Let’s face it. Canada does not have the weather and talent pool to develop its gridiron football resources fully. The USA is much better at football than Canada. So each Canadian team imports about 30 Americans to do the jobs that Canadians cannot do as well. And being Canadian, we have set some rules that a few Canadian players from Canadian universities have to dress for the game. But most of these Canadians would be replaced rather quickly if we really had free trade in football players. But  don’t tell that to Mr. Trump.


In other words, the CFL gets the rejects from the NFL. Any American football player north of the border wants to be in the USA with more money and more prestige. And Mom and Dad can watch their son on TV rather than buying a plane ticket to Canada. Playing in the CFL is bush! And not the George W kind!  


In 1978, an American college quarterback by the name of Warren Moon came to play with the Edmonton Eskimos. Prior to his arrival, the Eskimos were already a winning team. But when Moon showed up, they dominated. The Eskimos won an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cups. CFL attendance was dropping because there was no suspense as to who was going to be the Canadian(?) champion.


The question that the reader should be asking is: “If Moon was so good, why wasn’t he playing in the USA?” He had a good college career, winning the MVP for the Rose Bowl. Despite the NFL always needing to replenish its supply of quarterbacks, Moon went undrafted by all 28 teams—and in multiple rounds of picking. If he wanted to further his football career, he had no choice but to come to Canada.


The answer: The NFL at that time believed the American audience was not ready for an African-American to lead a football team. Warren Moon was African American. Most likely, (and unofficially), the NFL predicted a financial backlash if Moon was calling the plays for a bunch of white guys.


After five years of dominating the CFL, Moon eventually found his way to the Houston Oilers. He spent 16 years as quarterback in the NFL, earning much better paychecks than he could ever earn in the CFL. He never was a second-rater.  


Those of us in 2017 can deem the unofficial decision to sideline Moon in 1978 as racism. But it should also be noted that in 1978, African Americans were a long ways from slavery or even permanently relegated to jobs the white people did not want to do. African Americans were finding success in the professions, politics, and business. To most of us in 1978, there appeared to be no systemic racist barriers. We were smug. Yet the plight of Warren Moon was proof there were still some systemic obstacles.   


Today, there are quite a few African American quarterbacks in the NFL. And there are African American coaches and general managers. Like in 1978, we can be smug that racism has been overcome. But we were fooled back then. Maybe we are being fooled today.    


Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 8, 2017 - 2:02pm
I wonder if there are still white quarterbacks in American Football.
Leroy Added Nov 9, 2017 - 6:11am
Social change doesn't turn on a dime.  It is slow and steady progress.  By that time, it had already started to change.  A black quarterback had won the Grey Cup long before Moon.  There are many fine black quarterbacks today, including last year's collegiate national champion who followed in the footsteps of the 1981 champion.  I don't follow football, to be honest, so that if I have heard of them, they must be pretty good.  By that criteria, it seems that most of the really great quarterbacks are still white.  Perhaps it is because their careers tend to be longer.  Wonder why that might be.
Bill Kamps Added Nov 9, 2017 - 7:01am
While Warren Moon wasnt the first, he was the first star.
Those who are interested may  look at this:
Dave Volek Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:54am
Thanks Bill for this link. I might have to rewrite this story a little.
Dave Volek Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:59am
I don't think Moon was the first black quarterback in the CFL. I'm pretty sure there were others, but I can't recall their names. But basically, the CFL and its fans didn't care about skin color. But it was an issue for Moon in the NFL.
Social change does not come easy. If taking a knee during the anthem is making some people feel uncomfortable, that is part of the social change that is yet to come.
Bill Kamps Added Nov 9, 2017 - 9:56am
Dave I think your general premise is correct, until Warren Moon there was an unspoken "problem" with having black quarterbacks. 
There still are racist perceptions with the black quarterbacks, that they succeed because they are athletic, because they can run better, and not necessarily because they are smart, study the film more, or are better passers.  
NFL teams are run by  very rich, very old white guys.  It is no wonder that they tend to run behind the times a bit.  I go to Houston Texans home games.  Even little things like the boots the cheerleaders wear, are still the plastic, high heel, knee high boots from the 70s and 80s.  Im sure this is what an 85 year old owner wants to see, but for the average fan it looks dated and silly.
Bob McNair the owner of the Texans has made some incredibly insensitive and racist remarks over the years.  When Obama was elected President, he addressed his mostly black team, and in so many  words said electing Obama was a disaster for the country because he was black.  More recently when commenting on players taking a knee during the national anthem, he said we can't have "the inmates running the prison", not the  asylum which is the normal way the expression is said.  Perhaps he sees his players as prisoners, I dont know, or perhaps it was just a Freudian slip.
Not that the players are all geniuses either.  Last week when asked about the team trading Kelvin Benjamin, the best receiver on the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton said we will deal with it, "the Titanic is going to move forward".  People are still scratching their head wondering whether he knew or not what happened to the Titanic, and whether he was taking a shot at the owner, or was just being dumb.
Dave Volek Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:19am
After my last comment, I got to a little thinking. The NFL really didn't become big business until the early 60s, which precipitated a change in culture. I didn't get the impression from the article that African American quarterbacks were tried much after that time.
Then comes the internal team prejudice. It could be that certain receivers dropped balls from black quarterbacks that they would have caught from white quarterbacks. It could be that certain linemen just let the nose tackle through on purpose a few times to take the black quarterback his game. If enough of the team didn't want a black quarterback, it would be hard for the owner to force the situation.
Then there are the fans. If there are enough threats to cancel the season tickets, owners have to take that seriously--from a business perspective.
Then came Warren Moon who was, at the least, likely to be a strong second quarterback in the NFL in 1978. The owners believed that despite his talents and whatever their beliefs on fighting racism were, he would have been a liability for their team.
That is just my hypothesis. It would be interesting to see if some research has been done on this topic.
Bill Kamps Added Nov 9, 2017 - 12:39pm
Dave, having been a fan of the NFL for a long time, I think most likely the owners and coaches were responding to their own prejudices and the perceived prejudices of their fan base.  If we look at baseball and basketball we see that the Boston teams were the slowest to integrate, and did it at a rate less than other  cities.  Boston is a very segregated city, and whether the fans would have rejected more players of color, the owners certainly had reason to perceive that they might.  
I think it is less likely that the players would have done things, most players put winning ahead of prejudice.  However, had a white quarterback been beaten out of a job by a black one, perceived to be not as good, then yea probably a problem happens.  Once again like other places, the black quarterback had to be better than average, to keep his job, and Moon certainly was that. 
Dave Volek Added Nov 10, 2017 - 12:37pm
You are probably right. A winning college team would weeded out any cheap-shot misplays to cast a black quarterback in a bad light. Moon was on winning college teams.
Ari Silverstein Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:33pm
“The NFL at that time believed the American audience was not ready for an African-American to lead a football team.”
What a load of crap.  In 1978 the first quarterback drafted was a black quarterback named Doug Williams.  The reason Moon wasn’t drafted was because he refused to play a different position than quarterback and the scouts saw a brighter future for him at other positions.  Perhaps they were right, we’ll never know the answer.  The other reason we know your statement is bullshit is because in 6 short years Moon was in the NFL as a starting QB.  Are you saying racism evaporated in 6 years? 
Dave Volek Added Nov 11, 2017 - 7:15pm
Thanks Ari
I looked up Doug Williams biography on Wikipedia. What you said about him was true. I won't be putting this article on my blog.
I used to watch a fair amount of NFL in the early 80s. I don't recall seeing a black quarterback anywhere at that time.
But being the only black QB at that time (plus being poorly paid, according to the Wikipedia article) suggests that racism was still a part of the decision making process.
Ari Silverstein Added Nov 12, 2017 - 7:48am
Let’s back up a second.  You just claimed the NFL to be racist on account of the fact they don’t want black quarterbacks.  Your evidence was the fact in 1978 Warren Moon wasn’t drafted.  I then thoroughly debunked that opinion on account of the fact the #1 quarterback drafted that year was a black quarterback.  Not to mention the fact that in a relatively short amount of time Warren Moon was in the NFL as a starting quarterback.  At this point, you should put your tail between your legs and admit, Americans aren’t the racist pricks you believe us to be.  Instead you come up with another weak claim to our racism on account of the fact Doug Williams wasn’t paid very much.  Do I really need to debunk that claim as well?
Dave Volek Added Nov 12, 2017 - 10:30am
I'm just reiterating the Wikipedia article. For some reason, the writer(s) put that "fact" in there. These kinds of things are usually not in other sports figures biographies. If you have information to prove opposite, you are welcome to list it here.
Conversely the Wikipedia article on Warren Moon did not state why 28 teams refused to sign him. Your explanation that he didn't want to become a receiver is lacking a bit of water. It seems to me that even one of those teams would have picked him in Round 3 or later just to see how this Heisman Trophy winner might do at training camp as a backup quarterback.
And I don't have an answer for why Doug Williams got selected and Warren Moon did not. Old-fashioned rich white guys with racist tendencies does not explain this paradox.
I used to believe that the western world has more or less eliminated racism and misogyny. After all, people of color and of the feminine gender can rise to the high strata of society on their own merit. While some of them still have to knock around an "old white boys club" to get there, the avenues are no longer blocked. 
But in recent years, I have come to believe that there are still serious barriers out there that need overcoming. But I also acknowledge that we have indeed come a long ways since the 1950s. But if we asked average people in the 1950s, many of them would have said "no". We have to be careful that we not become too smug.
Bill Caciene Added Nov 12, 2017 - 10:00pm
I do think racism had something to do with the fact Moon wasn’t drafted.  However, it’s important to keep in mind that Moon’s college stats were pretty pathetic.  In addition, no major college team wanted Moon.  He needed to prove himself at the junior college level before given a chance at quarterback at a Division I college.  For whatever it’s worth, there are quite a few undrafted players that eventually had great NFL careers.
What’s the point of this article?  Are you trying to say that because the NFL owners were racist in 1978, they’re still racist in 2017?
Dave Volek Added Nov 13, 2017 - 10:58am
This article won't be going on my blog as the new information of "Doug Williams" kind of negates the point I wanted to make-->which is:
We need to be careful in assuming that we--as individuals and societies--have overcome a certain dysfunctional thinking and somehow become more enlightened. There always seems to be more things we need to learn about ourselves.
To take this one step further (which would have been difficult with my 600-word limit),  I could have added there is a tendency of "we the enlightened" not to conduct further investigation of our value system.  We need to be challenging ourselves throughout our lives as the values we hold.