He explained the word to his son. He explained what the man was saying. He explained that there are ignorant people in the world who say ignorant things. He said that while the man was directing those things at him, he was not the only target. The man hated a race of people. He would say ignorant things about a lot of people. Most people did not feel the way he did, but a few did. That was a sad fact of life.
The reporters who watched—John McClain of the Houston Chronicle was one of them—were touched. McClain says, "It made you want to cry." The amazing aspect of the episode was the fact that Moon already was a solid member of the Houston community. This was his eighth season since coming down from Canada; he had picked Houston over five other NFL cities in a flat-out bidding war. He was a civic pillar, living year-round in Houston, making appearances everywhere, even establishing his own charitable foundation. What more did he have to do? The team's record, even with the loss, was 9-4. Was he a quarterback when he won and a "black quarterback" when he lost? Or was he always a "black quarterback," no matter what he did?
The days that followed were ugly too. His foundation logged over 200 calls that echoed the racist words in the stands. The talk shows were brutal. Moon heard a list of rumors: He was a crack addict. He was separated from his wife. He had AIDS because he was a friend of the basketball player Magic Johnson. None of them was close to truth. Crack? He had never smoked a cigarette. He didn't drink—except perhaps on vacation, one of those drinks served in a carved-out pineapple with a paper parasol sticking out the top. McClain, the reporter, even talked to a man who was convinced Moon had thrown the game.
"He just signed a contract for $14.3 million," McClain said. "Why would he throw the game?"
"For really big money," the man said.
The rumors continued until Moon responded in the middle of the week on his TV show. He apologized. Apologized? He told the people that he was sorry that he had played lousy, that he would try not to do it again. He said the loss was his fault. He said he hoped to play better. It was an astonishing response.
"It defused everything," wide receiver Haywood Jeffires, a friend, says. "How could you beat that? An apology. I think of myself, if I heard those words, I'd be saying, 'Oh, yeah, well, come down here if you want a piece of me.' What Warren did.... He could have said a lot of things. Those live interceptions weren't all his fault. I think I was responsible for two of them myself. He could have talked about passes that were dropped, routes that were run incorrectly. He did none of that. He took the load the way he always docs. That is why he is such a leader. How could you not follow someone like him? He is like César Chávez or Arthur Ashe or Martin Luther King Jr. He comes in the huddle, and he speaks in that soft voice, like the voice of an angel, and you strain to hear every word. Everything he ever says, he has thought about before he says it."
The response to the apology was as amazing as the apology itself. The phones rang again. People called to apologize for what they had said. The talk-show dialogue flipped to his accomplishments instead of his failings. The Oilers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-6 in their next game.
He has been the father for as long as he can remember....
The face on the TV screen in the small house in the center of Los Angeles often belonged to Lawrence Welk or to a member of the cast of one of the various soap operas. The voice coming from the stereo belonged to Billy Eckstine or to Nat King Cole or to Harry Belafonte. The one bathroom belonged to women. Or at least that was how it always seemed.