Shooting for the Moon

Former football star Warren Moon gave thanks to Canada at the YMHA sports dinner last night in...

Former football star Warren Moon gave thanks to Canada at the YMHA sports dinner last night in Winnipeg. (Sun File/Stuart Dryden)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, Warren Moon experienced his share of discrimination.

It continued when he became a football player, when, first, major U.S. colleges, then the NFL, turned their backs on him because of his skin colour.

The reception he got from the stands wasn't much better. Boos became racial slurs, that's just the way it was if you were African-American.

Of course, Moon would prove them all wrong.

He wound up leading the University of Washington to a Rose Bowl victory, and the NFL eventually wanted him so bad he became pro football's highest paid player before playing a single game.

Now a freshly minted member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Moon looks back on it all and has one thing to say: thanks, Canada.

"This league gave me my chance to be a professional football player," the former Edmonton Eskimos star, in town as the guest speaker at the YMHA sports dinner, said yesterday. "That's why I'll always be indebted to this country and to the city of Edmonton. Because they did give me that opportunity, where a lot of people felt different at that time."

That's one of the reasons Moon doesn't mind lending his hand to a good cause up here. Canada, he says, never once made his race an issue, despite what Arland Bruce of the Toronto Argonauts said at the end of last season.

Told that Bruce claimed CFL officials were prejudiced, Moon was genuinely surprised.

"Really? I never had that problem," he said. "And that was one of the refreshing things I loved about playing up here. Coming out of my college experience, at the University of Washington... I had some really tough days that way.

"Here I never heard anything like that. If I played well, I was cheered for it. If I played bad, I was booed for it. I can accept that."

There's one thing about the CFL, though, that doesn't thrill Moon: the lack of drug testing.

While the NFL at least attempts to keep its players clean -- Moon says he was tested six times in one season near the end of his career -- the CFL can't be bothered to come up with a policy.

"Every league should have that," Moon said. "With everything that's going on these days with performance enhancing drugs, the players should be held accountable. And the CFL should be no different. The big problem with steroids is too many young kids are starting to use it."

Moon estimates 10% to 20% of NFL players used steroids before the league cracked down. He knows a few players who are paying the price for it now, with their health.

It was somewhat surprising to hear Moon talk about the issue so candidly.

Then again, he's always stood up for what he believed in.

At a time when the "big thinkers" of American football believed only white players made good quarterbacks, Moon came north rather than switch positions.

Today he's the only player inducted into both the Canadian and Pro Football Halls. His six seasons in the CFL (1978-83) helped produced five consecutive Grey Cups (older Bomber fans are allowed to wince) and his 17 seasons in the NFL, while championship-free, produced nearly 50,000 passing yards and 291 touchdown passes.

Ask him which accomplishment stands out, though, and he says it's helping to pave the way for quarterbacks like Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.

"To open up a generation of young African-American quarterbacks who are all flourishing right now, being paid very well, doing the endorsements they deserve. Just getting the opportunities.

"That's probably one of the biggest things I'm proud of."


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