I watched part of the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony today and was particularly interested in the induction of Warren Moon. Moon is the first black quarterback in the modern era to be inducted into the hall of fame, but he surely won’t be the last. He helped pave the way for guys like Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair and Vince Young. And the story of how he came to the hall of fame helps illuminate one of the most important lessons that history could possibly teach us.
When he graduated from the University of Washington in 1978, having won the Rose Bowl and been an all-American quarterback, not a single NFL team would give him a chance to play that position as a professional. Several general managers told his agent that he might be drafted if he was willing to play wide receiver, but that they had doubts about a black man being smart enough or a good enough leader to be an NFL quarterback. Moon refused to do that, and he signed instead with Edmonton of the Canadian Football League.
In six seasons in the CFL, he led his team to 5 straight championships and threw for over 20,000 yards. Finally, the NFL realized how stupid they had been in 1978 and the Houston Oilers signed him and made him the highest paid player in league history at that time. Over the next 17 years, he rewrote the record books. Think about these staggering numbers: he ranks third in NFL history in passing attempts, completions, yardage and total offense. He ranks fourth in NFL history in passing touchdowns. And he did all of that while missing his first 6 years while playing in another league.
Had he played in the NFL for those first six seasons and just had average seasons based on his later numbers – say 25 touchdowns and 3000 yards – he would hold every major record for quarterbacks in the NFL, most of them by wide margins. He would have shattered Marino’s record for total passing yards by more than 6000 yards, and beaten his record for touchdowns by about 30. And all this being totally undrafted because a bunch of idiot GMs thought a black man couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL.
It all brings to mind for me the absurdity of judging people based on superficial traits. It’s not just skin color, it’s religion (or lack thereof), ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and more. It’s the same illogic that makes people think that gay men and women can’t be good parents, or can’t be good soldiers, or can’t be committed spouses and partners. When judging people and trying to predict whether they can handle a job, we should look only at the situation and at the traits that situation requires in order to be successful. Forget about all the irrelevant traits.
If you’re looking for a store manager, a company CEO, a quarterback or a military officer, what possible effect could the color of someone’s skin or the gender of who they love have on their ability to do those jobs? For all of those positions, you need intelligence, ambition, discipline, the ability to work with others, and many other traits, none of which are associated any more with skin color or sexual orientation than they are with eye color, hair color or whether they’re left handed or right handed.
Martin Luther King famously dreamed of a world where his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. What is true of race is just as true of every other superficial trait upon which we tend to judge people. Every single person should be judged according to the content of their character, not according to their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, shoe size, religion, or anything else. This, surely, is among the most self-evident truths one could possibly imagine. All the more wonder, then, why so many don’t understand it.