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The Mission featuring HOF Warren Moon: Continuing the Legacy

The Mission featuring HOF Warren Moon: Continuing the Legacy

09/19/2020
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By Jamir Howerton
Producer, Hall of Fame Productions

This week, the National Football League celebrated its historic 100th birthday in the place where it was founded, Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 17, 1920. The 15 forefathers of the League could never have imagined what would happen over the next century as this great game of football would emulate the passions and heartbeat of America.

Over the course of 100 years, the League not only has progressed into a multibillion-dollar juggernaut, but it would reflect the generational social norms and progress for the better over time. One of those eye-opening advancements that would grab the attention of fans across the country would come during Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season, when 10 African Americans started at the quarterback position, a historic high in a season-opening weekend in NFL history. They are:

  • Cam Newton, New England Patriots
  • Patrick Mahomes, Kanas City Chiefs
  • Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
  • Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
  • Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
  • Dwayne Haskins, Washington Football Team
  • Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

Unfortunately, this level in inclusion was not always the case in the NFL. There was a time when Black athletes were deemed unqualified to play quarterback and weren’t seen as the leader on the gridiron. Even though African American Fritz Pollard played and coached in the NFL in 1921, it was not until 1969 that James “Shack” Harris, then with the Buffalo Bills, became the first Black man to be named a starting quarterback in the NFL.

It took another four seasons for a second NFL franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to start a Black quarterback. Eventually, each team joined the list, although it took until the 2017 season for the last of the current 32 teams to do so. Consequently, it was not until 2006 that the first Black quarterback would wear a Gold Jacket: Warren Moon.

To help us navigate this history, HOF Productions sat down with Moon for a complex conversation about race in the NFL and how the League has progressed at the quarterback position.

For Moon’s generation to witness this many African American quarterbacks under center for their respective teams on Opening Day was beyond the true meaning of gratitude for the Houston Oilers’ Legend. He was a part of laying the foundation for the next generation of quarterbacks.   

“Something that I’m most proud of in my career is that I was able to effect change. I am most proud of that,” Moon said. “We talk about Civil Rights and what we are fighting for today with human rights. During my day, we were fighting for the right of trying to get on the football field as African American quarterbacks.

“That was a fight within a fight,” he said.

Moon, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, is no stranger to adversity, and he shared with HOF PRO his early struggles related to race and the swirling questions of whether a man of color could lead and play at the most important position on the field. That didn’t stop him, because deep inside, Moon said, he knew he was playing for a higher cause.

“I knew there was another generation of young guys who deserved an opportunity to play this position and play it well. They just needed an opportunity, and that’s something that I almost wasn’t given an opportunity to play the position, just as so many others weren’t,” Moon said.

“So, I felt like if I played well, Randall Cunningham felt that same way if he played well enough. Doug Williams felt the same way, if he played well enough. James “Shack” Harris felt the same way — that if we played at a higher enough level, maybe we’ll change the mindset of owners, general managers and coaches that we could play at this position and open up more opportunities for other young African American quarterbacks.”

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