Transforming Edmonton interview: Warren Moon

Former Edmontonian Warren Moon won five Grey Cups as a quarterback of the Edmonton Eskimos between 1978 to 1982. In the NFL he played for four teams, including in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Vikings. In 2006, Moon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the first African-American quarterback to receive the distinction. 

Transforming Edmonton reached out to Moon, who lives in Seattle, for his thoughts about current events surrounding the alleged murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have happened around the world, including in Edmonton. 

“It’s going to take people listening”

Transforming Edmonton: What’s your reaction to the images you’re seeing on TV these days? The images first of the police and Mr. George Floyd and then the images of the protests. What are you seeing? What’s in your heart? 

Warren Moon: It’s sad to watch on television to see what’s going on, the unrest that is happening all over our country. Not only with the protests and some of the rioting, but also the pandemic that not only we’re going through, but the whole world is going through. The fact that 46 million people have filed for unemployment. There’s a lot of people out of work, not being able to make ends meet. And then all the anguish of more than 100,000 people passing away, and the families that have to deal with all of that. So, yeah, I’m sad about a lot of things that are going on right now. 

But, I’m also encouraged that things are going to get better. And every time this country has gone through tough times, a lot of times it comes out of it better. 

I’m optimistic that’s going to happen this time. It’s going to take some great leadership. 

It’s going to take people listening—opening their ears and eyes. And it’s going to take a lot of people battling through a lot of adversity, but I think it can all get done. 

“Very cold cold in winter time”

TE: What kind of city is Minneapolis? 

WM: It’s a really good city. It’s always been rated up there in terms of most liveable cities in the country. The only negative I would have about it is that it does get very cold in the winter time. But it doesn’t seem to bother anybody. They live there and they’re used to it. 

There’s a lot of things to do outdoors. There’s a lot of water. It’s known as the state of 10,000 lakes. There’s water everywhere. It’s really hilly and picturesque. They have all the major sports, so there’s a lot to do there in the city of Minneapolis. Really good restaurants and just really good people. The Norwegian people and the people in the Midwest are very, very friendly and very, very welcoming. I lived  there for three years and I enjoyed it immensely. And still have a lot of good friends there. 

There always has been, even when I was playing there in 1994 through 1997, a warning from our security people with the Minnesota Vikings, and a lot of those guys were retired policemen, you know, watch out for the Minneapolis police because they have a lot of bad apples within the police force. That’s been going on for a long time. 

“The attention of the world”

TE: Do you recognize the sites when you see the Third Precinct and the Target Store? 

WM: I recognize those areas but I didn’t live in the city. I lived in the suburbs, kind of where our training facility was. I knew where they were and what part of town they were in, because there are restaurants over in that part of town. It’s a really good city and it’s too bad it’s got this black eye right now, but sometimes it takes this to get the attention of everyone. And I think it’s really got the attention of not only the United States, but it’s got the attention of the world. 

“That doesn’t happen for everybody out there”

TE: Are you hearing from people in Edmonton? What are they asking you? 

WM: Everybody knows what I went through just trying to play quarterback in the NFL, and some of the discrimation and racism I dealt with as a player in college and also in the NFL. So, I try to make a lot of comparisons between that. And any instances I might have had with the police throughout my years growing up or since I’ve been an adult, just trying to translate my experience to what’s going on right now. 

I can relate a lot to what’s going on right now because I lived in L.A. through the Watts Riots, lived through the Rodney King era, that was about two miles from my mom’s house when all that happened. I grew up as a young kid in the Civil Rights movement when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I’ve seen and been a part of a lot of the things that have gone on with African-Americans over the years. And I’ve had my own problems with the law, with policemen treating me unfairly until they figured out who I was, then everything seemed to change. But that doesn’t happen for everybody out there that’s not a celebrity, not privileged, they don’t get that same kind of treatment. 

I’ve just seen a lot of those instances, not only experienced but talked about it with a lot of different people, so, it brings back a lot of memories and now I have to talk to my young son about, you know, how to deal with the police. Somebody that should be protecting and serving him, he’s now got to worry about how he’s acting around them, so he doesn’t lose his life. 

“I know what I’m going to do if I’m pulled over”

TE: What do you tell him? 

WM: You have to teach them how to communicate with the police, what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say, so you can, hopefully, come out of the experience with them alive and not roughed up. So, it’s a shame that I have to do that, because when I was a young kid, policemen used to coach us in football. A lot of our coaches were policemen, so, I had great respect for policemen when I was a young kid. At one point I wanted to be one. I was a criminal justice major when I first went into college. But just seeing what I had to deal with after that, you know, I kinda changed my major and didn’t want to be a policeman anymore. 

There’s still a lot of really good policemen out there. But the ones that are bad, they need to get out of there. It’s just like the guy in Minnesota. So, they’ve got to do a lot to reform the police department. They’ve got to make the rules tougher on the policemen in terms of following the policies they’re supposed to follow when they do arrest someone. 

I know they have a high stress job. They never know who’s who and what’s what. But once you have someone apprehended, once you have them in your custody, there’s no way the person should end up dead. 

I know even at my age now what I’m going to do if I’m pulled over by the police. First thing I’m going to do when I roll down my window is I’m going to show my hands. My hands are going to be on my steering wheel. So he can see them. And it’s going to be yes, sir, and, no, sir, in everything I say to him.

TE: Even though you’re Warren Moon? 

WM: Even though I’m Warren Moon. Until they know I’m Warren Moon. A lot of them don’t know I’m Warren Moon and until they do I’m not taking anything for granted. And then I’m going to follow their directions. If they ask me to give them my registration, I’m going to tell them, okay, I’m going to go over to my glove box, and I’m going to reach in there and get it. I’m not going to do it without them knowing. You just basically have to guide them along on what you’re doing so they don’t take anything out of context, context that you might be making a move toward a gun or whatever it might be. All of those things you have to do as an African-American because there’s a lot more, it seems like, a lot more paranoia when they pull over an African-American compared to when they pull over another colour. 

“Try to respect one another”

TE: What’s your advice to people who ask what can I do to better identify and combat racism? 

WM: The biggest thing that people can do in general is try to respect one another and try and listen to one another. Try and listen to other people’s perspectives. 

That’s one of the things as a quarterback I had to make sure of: an open mind with all of my teammates, make sure you’re open to suggestions. If one of my receivers comes up to me and says, I can beat this guy on this route or I can do this or that or whatever it might be, don’t have a closed mind about it. Have an open mind. And see where you can make it work. 

And it should be the same thing when people have different perspectives on life. Just respect their opinion and listen. Even if you might not always agree, at least listen. 

And you don’t have to hate the person or not like the person because they don’t think the exact same way as you. There’s too much of that going on right now in our society. It’s if you don’t think this way or you don’t pray to this God, or you don’t vote for this person, then you’re a bad person. We have to get back to the point where you can have your own frame of mind, your own thoughts, but everything is still okay, we can still live together. 

“Action put in place to back those things up.”

TE: Our City Manager said this today in public. His name is Adam Laughlin. He said: “On a personal leadership note, it has been impossible to watch events this week without being reminded how critical it is for us to work in an inclusive and equitable way. As an organization that is led by mainly white leadership, we are deeply committed to examining and activating our role to address violence, racism, oppression and discrimination in the organization, in Edmonton and in society generally.”

WM: That’s great. I mean, that’s somebody who understands what we’re going through right now and understands the times and, hopefully, that’s sincere and not just talk and there’s going to be action put in place to back those things up. 

And that’s the main thing. A lot of people say a lot of things. Just like [New Orleans Saints quarterback] Drew Brees. He had to make that apology. He had to say that to his football team and to the public. Okay, now back that up with action, because that’s what people want to see. They don’t want to just see words, not just an apology after you were very strong the day before with another point of view, so, back up the words with action. That’s what needs to be done after all of this protesting is going on. There’s got to be some changes, and they’ve got to be fast because this young generation is very motivated. 

“You might know their names”

TE: Why do you think people come to sports figures for guidance? 

WM: Look at who our leaders are sometimes in our communities. Sometimes the quarterback and other players on your football team or hockey team, you might know their names before you know the mayor of your city. That’s how popular they are. So, they have leadership abilities, and it all depends on whether they want to use that leadership ability to go out and create a platform to be more socially conscious. 

You’re seeing more athletes today because of social media, being socially conscious and having something to say, and whatever they say gets right to the people. They don’t have to worry about it being edited in the newspaper or being edited on television. What they say goes right to who they want to talk to. So, I think that’s why you see more players getting involved in social justice.

It’s good as long as the players are well versed in what they believe in because you are going to get backlash. 

“If you’re living in a city like Edmonton…”

TE: What should we be thinking about and not be distracted by? What’s most important now?

WM: I think a lot of people have always looked to the United States as one of the countries for leadership. And, right now, if I’m on the outside looking in at this country, we’re not setting a good example for the rest of the world. 

I think if you’re living in a city like Edmonton and a country like Canada, you can use this opportunity to be more of a leader. To set more positive examples of things you should do. I think this is a good time for Edmontonians and Canadians to not so much pound their chest or anything like that because they’re doing a lot of good things and a lot of right things, but, as you look at us, just know this isn’t the leadership to follow. 

You don’t want to become what we are right now. You’ll want to look at us in the next couple of years and you’ll see where we are. And, hopefully, we’re back to being the example-setting country that we used to be. 

But right now you have a chance to improve on what you’re doing and not make the mistakes we’re making down here.