I can recall Warren Moon putting on a stirring performance while winning Rose Bowl MVP honors on the second day of 1978 when he led the Washington Huskies to an upset win over the powerful Michigan Wolverines.

Over the next few months, I didn’t understand why NFL teams had no interest in drafting Moon. It was one of those makes-no-sense-to-a-kid things.

You see, I had no idea that teams interested in winning would bypass a college quarterback just because his skin was black.

Moon had to spend six years proving himself in the Canadian Football League before any NFL team would give him a chance. The Houston Oilers signed Moon in 1984 and he went on to a Hall of Fame career despite not starting his NFL career until the age of 27.

I think of Moon today not because of his superb playing career and all that he had to overcome to become a starting NFL quarterback. But because a guy like Moon should know better than to make the comments he did last week when he said that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is being criticized because he is black and held to different standards than white college quarterbacks.

Makes me wonder if Moon was in hibernation in Siberia last spring when Florida’s very-white Tim Tebow was perhaps the most publicly scrutinized draft hopeful quarterback of all-time. Moon sure didn’t come to Tebow’s defense, did he?

I get that Moon might be a bit sensitive due to his own experiences of being shunned by NFL owners and general managers after his own standout college career. I threw out questions to Moon on conference calls on two occasions but won’t pretend to know how painful that process was to him and fully accept that I can never possibly know what it feels like to be stereotyped against due to skin color.

But Moon is now 54 years old and played 17 NFL seasons. He once was the highest-paid player in the NFL so there’s no way he doesn’t know what the business side of the NFL is like. He also knows no position in the game comes under more scrutiny than a quarterback.

If all positions were considered equal in stature, then rookie quarterbacks entering the league wouldn’t land richer contracts than All-Pro linebackers and offensive linemen. Once he made it into the NFL, Moon benefitted from the system that treats quarterbacks different than any other position.

What peeved Moon in recent days was a scouting report written by Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki that said Newton was “fake,” and “immature” and “lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness.”

The scouting report also listed positive things about Newton’s athletic ability and pro potential but Moon only felt like reacting to the things he didn’t like. And guess what – Moon is on Newton’s payroll, helping prepare Newton for the upcoming draft.

So if you want to thin the debate down to who is more objective about Newton, Moon is going to lose by a landslide to the Pro Football Weekly writer.

So is Newton fake? Perhaps so, perhaps not. If he is fake, he’s far from the first NFL athlete. I covered the San Diego Chargers in the mid-to-late 1990s when Junior Seau was the star linebacker for the Chargers. Never saw a player change into a happy mood faster than Seau did when the camera lights were on him.

All of a sudden, No. 55 would spend three minutes answering a question he was too busy to entertain three minutes earlier.

Is Newton immature? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Cam doesn’t turn 22 until May so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s still maturing. I covered an immature 22-year-old quarterback named Ryan Leaf who was a complete bust on the field and a complete buffoon off it.

Newton was involved in a well-publicized scandal last season at Auburn and left Florida earlier in his college career under circumstances that allegedly include academic fraud and a stolen laptop. Yeah, he has some integrity issues and some of it may be due to immaturity.

As for comments about lacking accountability and trustworthiness, I know of many people twice Newton’s age who fit that description. Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel seems like more of a snake than Newton when those are the standards, wouldn’t you say? Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun is three times Newton’s age and I can’t say Newton is any more disingenuous than Calhoun, the best reason to root for Butler to beat UConn in Monday’s NCAA title game.

In fact, there are adults all over the college landscape – namely football and basketball coaches and athletic directors – who match up pretty well with Newton in that regard.

I’m open to Newton becoming a good NFL quarterback but it’s hard to say for certain whether or not he will be. Add in signs that he appears to be a bit of a me-first self-promoter and it would be hard for me to bet my future on him if I was an NFL general manager.

If you think about it, Newton is one of four quarterbacks considered to be worthy of being selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft. The others are Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett.

Gabbert doesn’t have a long track record as a productive collegian, Locker has impressive athletic ability but was an underachiever prone to erratic throws in college and Mallett has been raked over the coals for some personal issues over the last two months.

In fact, you could easily make the case that Mallett has experienced rougher criticism than Newton. How come Moon hasn’t come to defense of Mallett and uttered similar opinions about unfair critiques?

And if there’s a black sportswriter somewhere who criticizes Mallett and questions whether he’s trustworthy or calls him fake, do we call that black sportswriter a racist?

Of course, we wouldn’t. That would be silly. The same way it is ridiculous that Moon has decided to play the race card in a situation that has nothing to do with skin color.

If I was running an NFL team, I wouldn’t draft any of those four quarterbacks in the first round. But of course I never understood why an NFL team would pick Alex Smith first overall in the same draft that Aaron Rodgers was available (and yes, people who know me heard over and over again as the 2005 draft approached that Rodgers would be a much better pick than Smith).

But if I were considering picking Newton, I would be getting a bit concerned about one thing: If Newton is having trouble dealing with criticisms from people who don’t really matter in February and March of 2011, then I would be very concerned with whether or not he’ll be able to handle the pressures of December and January during NFL seasons.

I trust that Warren Moon is schooling Newton on such pressures in the months leading up to the draft. It’s just sad that Moon is now adding to the scrutiny Newton must endure with ill-advised comments.

As I said at the outset – Moon has firsthand experience of what real stereotyping is like and it still seems silly to me that he was bypassed in the 1979 NFL Draft solely because he was black.

But Newton being scrutinized prior to being a first-round pick in a few weeks is not something that is a different standard than what white quarterbacks go through.

If Warren doesn’t believe me, I’m sure he can figure out how to get ahold of Tebow now that he’s no longer in hibernation.


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