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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Warren Moon and the subject of racial bias

By Mike Sando

A story relaying Warren Moon's allegations that some criticisms of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton are "racially based" tops our NFL headlines as I write this.

Moon's comments have generated lots of comments -- 2,000 and counting in the comments section beneath the ESPN.com version of the story.

Whether or not Moon is correct, the story is incomplete without acknowledging the experiences that defined Moon's own career as a player.

Moon, who currently works as a radio analyst on Seattle Seahawks broadcasts, ran up against racial barriers for years. He played at the junior-college level after four-year programs tried to turn him into a defensive back, a tactic more common before Moon and other black quarterbacks conquered stereotypes. Moon later went undrafted by the NFL despite having been a Rose Bowl MVP for Washington. He spent six seasons in the CFL, winning five Grey Cups, before beginning a Hall of Fame career with the Houston Oilers.

I've come to know Moon some over the years and stood with him during Jake Locker's pro day Wednesday. In my experience, Moon does not throw around accusations lightly. But I can only imagine the anger someone as competitive and talented as Moon must have felt during those years when the NFL turned its back on him.

It's natural for Moon's own experiences to frame the way he interprets criticism of Newton, particularly now that Moon is invested in Newton while working as one of his advisers. That doesn't necessarily mean Moon is right in this specific case -- I've seen intelligent comments from both sides of that debate -- but Moon is obviously sensitive to unfair criticisms against black quarterbacks.

If Moon's comments lead to fairer and more measured characterizations of players during the evaluation process, that's not such a bad thing.