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.