All-star NFL player Warren Moon recently became the first African American quarterback to be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The honor punctuates the extraordinary career of Moon, who has broken barriers all his life.
He is among a long legacy of early African American quarterbacks like Fritz Pollard, Marlin Briscoe, Joe Gilliam, James Harris and Doug Williams, who helped to make today's NFL all-stars like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb a common phenomenon.
America first noticed Warren Moon in the early 1980s as the prolific quarterback for the University of Washington Huskies. As the school's first African American quarterback in 1978, he set NCAA Division 1 passing records and led the Huskies to a Pac 10 championship and a Rose Bowl victory.
Despite his stellar collegiate record, the NFL did not draft Moon. Unwilling to switch to a wide receiver or defensive back position, a common practice by NFL teams at the time, Moon went to play quarterback in the Canadian Football League. There he reaffirmed his proficiency and talent as quarterback, leading his Edmonton Eskimos team to five consecutive Grey Cup Championships. In 1984, the NFL's fledgling Houston Oilers finally picked him to join the NFL.
While in the League, Moon was named 1984 NFL Rookie of the Year, passed for more than 49,000 yards and 291 touchdowns and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. His nine 3,000-yard passing seasons place him third among all quarterbacks in NFL history.
His success is even more noteworthy given his role as team leader.
Quarterback is a unique, designated position in professional team sports. The role is expected to be an on-the-field general, have an encyclopedic knowledge of strategy, command the team's game plan and be the team's best all-around athlete.
For many years, the nasty rumor was that African Americans did not possess the requisite skills to play quarterback in the NFL. Then Marlin Briscoe came along and started a few games for the Denver Broncos of the old AFL. James Harris followed and started in the first all-Black backfield with the Buffalo Bills.
African American quarterbacks achieved a special measure of credibility in 1988 when Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to a sensational Super Bowl victory and secured the MVP award. The 1980s also saw Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon come of age, thus demonstrating the African American could not only play quarterback, but could perform with distinction.
The new crop of African American quarterbacks, both in the NFL and college ranks, stand on the shoulders of Warren Moon.
His election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is justified and deserved in his first year of eligibility.
With Moon's ascension to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the NFL's future should, will, and must include breaking the barriers to the ownership ranks, which would be a fitting capstone to the illustrious career of Commissioner Tagliabue and a befitting tribute to all those early African American NFL greats, like Moon, who blazed the trial.
Marc H. Morial is president and chief executive of the National Urban League.