Dispatches from the Creation Wars

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.


  1. #1 DRR
    August 5, 2006

    Warren Moon was a great quarterback to watch. He deserves to be in the Hall.

    One of the things I like about football is that, with all of the pads and helmets, players end up looking pretty similar. Black quarterbacks and white quarterbacks all look pretty similar out there throwing touchdowns.

  2. #2 gwangung
    August 5, 2006

    Too, note that Moon’s problem was relatively recent. And in an endeavor where it is very, very easy to measure success. Gotta think in areas where competence is not so clear cut that it’s harder for companies to admit their mistakes like the NFL did….

  3. #3 Kevin
    August 5, 2006

    The ridiculous thing is that there still seems to be a bias against blacks as coaches – head coaches, at least – in the NFL.

  4. #4 igor eduardo kupfer
    August 5, 2006

    The scariest thing is that athletics is one of the few fields of human endeavours where we can quantify with great accuracy how well someone is doing their job — and yet, even which such unambiguous evidence, there are still people who will minimise the abilities of whole groups of people for no good reason. What does this say about other areas of employment, where assessing productivity is more subjective and the hidden biases of the assessors can remain hidden?

  5. #5 Ed Darrell
    August 5, 2006

    Great post, Ed. Great analysis.

  6. #6 kehrsam
    August 5, 2006

    The amazing thing about Moon’s career is that so many of the myths that prevented him from being drafted persisted to the end of his career and beyond. News stories during his career constantly harped upon how his success was a mere byprouduct of the Mouse Davis spread system, and it seems like just about every summer there were stories about how Houston lacked the “Leadership” necessary to make a deep playoff run. Meanwhile Marino never got nicked for the Dolphins tanking around game 10 every year.

    Moon was one of the best ever, who always kept his head, never got in trouble, and always was a class act. There are precious few superstars who can say that.

  7. #7 Thursday
    August 7, 2006

    I loved watching him in the CFL – thanks for lettng us “borrow” him for six, eh? The Eskimos were my favorite team through the 70’s and early 80’s. I’m a BC boy, now, but back then, I was all about the green and gold. I do wish Moon ended up with a better team when he went back south, and I was rooting for him when I caught him on the tube. I don’t watch NFL often, but I’d go out of my way to catch his games. Very classy guy.

    At least the reason Doug Flutie was kept out of the NFL was he was too short to play *heh*. Any “heightist” comments coming next?

  8. #8 nick
    August 7, 2006

    I think it is important that someone mention the Flutie comparison – while it is certainly true that heightism has none of the societal weight, baggage, or (and someone will surely call me to task on this) import that racism does, the fact is that it is absurd that people still look at these superficial constructs of what makes success. Most of the records that Marino broke belonged to Fran Tarkenton who was around the same height as Flutie.

    At any rate, good on ya Warren. Classy, talented, and graceful lie few others – truly worthy of a great Hall of Fame class.

  9. #9 Dandini
    August 7, 2006

    After all that and white people are still dillusional enough to think that racism doesn’t exist in post civil-rights America. And we’re talking about SPORTS here, where the African-american athlete has reigned supreme for some time. Face it white America, you still harbor ill will towards the race.

  10. #10 Morat20
    August 7, 2006

    As a Houstonian who watched Moon during his career (my father held season tickets, and I went often) I can say what’s amazing is he did so much of that while hampered by the idiocy of Glanville.

    God I hated that man (Glanville). I had nothing against run-and-shoot, but his coaching style — especially the aggressive idiocy he encouraged that cost the Oilers time and again — ticked me off.

    As for Moon — he was a great QB. My only thoughts on him was that he was often nervous in the pocket against a rush. But no one’s flawless. :)

  11. #11 Jason
    August 7, 2006

    Sorry, but religion isn’t a physical trait. I’m still going to judge people based on their religion, at least as far as that religion will affect their own judgement.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    August 7, 2006


    I think the notion that there is such a thing as “white America” is ridiculous, as ridiculous as the notion that there is such a thing as “European culture” or “white European culture”. Who speaks for European culture, Adolf Hitler or Anne Frank? Who speaks for “white America”, George W. Bush or Noam Chomsky? The notion of a monolithic single construct like that is just plain silly.


    Religion should be a factor where it’s relevant. If you’re looking for a quarterback, what possible difference could it make? Or for a store manager? Or a CEO? It simply isn’t relevant in most circumstances where you’re going to need to evaluate people.

  13. #13 John
    August 7, 2006

    It’s interesting that you mentioned Vince Young. Before the draft people were questioning his intelligence. Remember how much the media made of his Wunderlich score? Nobody would ever come out and say they’re questioning his intelligence because he’s black but you know they’re all thinking it. At least ESPN had the sense to tell Rush Limbaugh that type of thinking isn’t OK.

    It would help if the media would point out that Byron Leftwich and Steve McNair are two of the toughest QBs in the league as well as strong leaders and they’re both black.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    August 7, 2006

    John wrote:

    It’s interesting that you mentioned Vince Young. Before the draft people were questioning his intelligence. Remember how much the media made of his Wunderlich score? Nobody would ever come out and say they’re questioning his intelligence because he’s black but you know they’re all thinking it. At least ESPN had the sense to tell Rush Limbaugh that type of thinking isn’t OK.

    I don’t buy this. There are now a whole bunch of black quarterbacks in the NFL and some of them are going to be smarter than others. They will show a full range of intelligence from brilliant to stupid, just like white quarterbacks will. So I don’t think pointing to bad wonderlic scores for one of them means that they’re saying anything at all about black people; it means they’re saying something about that particular black quarterback. I certanly don’t think there’s anything inherently racist about evaluating intelligence, regardless of race. I bet the league’s black general managers and coaches use it to evaluate black and white players alike, and deciding to take one player over another because they test better for IQ doesn’t have to have anything at all to do with race. The difference between the Vince Young situation and the Warren Moon situation is that Young was judged on his actual performance on the test, while Moon was simply assumed to be deficent because of his race. There’s nothing wrong with evaluating any color player based on their individual traits.

  15. #15 The mandolin player
    August 7, 2006

    There is absolutely no denying that Warren Moon was a great QB but great person…..I have to pass on that.
    Lest we forget, he has had several “incidents” involving him beating his wife.
    I congratulate him getting in to the HoF and appreciate his efforts on the gridiron, but great men simply don’t beat their wives.


  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    August 7, 2006

    He had one incident that I am aware of, for which he spent many years atoning. It led to a divorce, but the fact that his ex-wife was in attendance at the ceremony probably says something about that. And given the entire history, that one incident sticks out from a lifetime of being a real force for good in a lot of ways. If Moon was a typical jock, I would certainly hold that against him much more. But this was a guy who really did go above and beyond almost any athlete I’ve ever seen in terms of his dedication to helping others, so I’m more willing to be forgiving about the one bad event that contrasts so much with the rest of his life.

  17. #17 trutheau
    August 9, 2006

    As a Canadian, I would just like to thank the racist GMs in the NFL who passed on signing Warren Moon as a quarterback. He helped bring a lot of exposure to the CFL and make it a better game (props to Doug Flutie as well). I’m sure if you were to talk with Warren Moon, he would tell you about how the CFL is a much better game, if you like a passing game. Wider and longer field. Only three downs. In the NFL all you need is a good offensive line and a solid running back, get 3 to 4 yards each time and you got a down. The CFL rules necessitate that you throw at least once each attempt for a down.
    Poor guy, being a black man, had to live in Edmonton for six years, not the climate suited for him at all, I’m sure. And not the kind of place Warren Moon would have chosen to play in, but he never complained. Unlike Steve Francis, who wouldn’t even give Vancouver a try, when it’s easily the most beautiful city in North America.
    What does make us Canadians proud, is that we would never disallaow the chance for someone to succeed at their chosen calling based on their skin colour.
    Rock on Moon, rock on.

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