Randy Moss is more than just a football legend.
He’s one of the games’ most significant cultural fixtures.
Twenty-two years after being taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 21st pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Moss is now a part of football royalty.
The explosive touchdown plays and mind-boggling catches he perfected during his 14-year NFL career made him a legend. But his impact extends far beyond those highlights and stats.
For the majority of his career, Moss was labeled by the mainstream media and fans as a “disruption” to organizations.
While neither Owens or Moss were perfect, often the excessive public scrutiny that both received during their careers was not a result of their actions, but of the image that was created for them.
Especially in Moss’ case.
During his NFL career, most of Moss’ off-field controversy came from his use of marijuana — a drug that is now legal in many states and one that the NFL is no longer suspending players for as a result of its new collecting bargaining agreement that was signed in March.
On the field, Moss was berated by the media for “mooning” Packers fans in a 2005 playoff game at Lambeau Field, a gesture that today seems trivial considering the number of players that have directly flipped off fans and opposing players during games since.
Also, Moss’ willingness to speak his truth to the media during his professional career led to unfair backlash.
In 2010, following a loss to the Patriots, Moss was released after his second stint with the Vikings for voicing his frustration about then head coach Brad Childress while praising New England head coach Bill Belichick.
Moss played only four games that season with the Vikings.
It’s a claim that shouldn’t seem far-fetched coming from a man who currently ranks fourth in receiving yards while also ranking second in receiving touchdowns, 100-yard receiving games, and 1,000-yard receiving seasons in NFL History.
Yet, many in the media viewed his statement as another opportunity to indict his character. An act that has occured far too often. Not only for Moss but for people that look like him.
Moss’ NFL career is symbolic of the struggle many black Americans have faced in this country. Which is why his story is a testament to cultural strength.
Often, instead of black people’s “mistakes” being seen as a simple supporting detail in the larger story of our lives, they are unjustly portrayed as the theme of the novel.
Outspokenness in a black person is not seen as an admirable personality trait, but a character flaw.
Displays of passion, exuberance, and creativity are not seen as an asset, but a threat.
This is why it was fitting to see Moss, during his Hall of Fame Speech in 2018, pay respect to 12 young black men and women who were killed either at the hands of police or, as in the case of Trayvon Martin, by a racist neighborhood watch volunteer.
Greg Gunn, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Paul O’Neal, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Akiel Denkins, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, and Martin.
These individuals had their lives taken from them because they were wrongly perceived as “threatening,” simply because of how they looked. Their worth was devalued in a moment that cost them everything.
It’s a feeling Moss most likely understands on a couple of levels — as a black man and a misunderstood black athlete.
So as we look back on the 22 years of Moss’ journey on the biggest stage, let’s not fixate on his “missteps”. Rather, let’s focus on what it took for him to succeed at a historic level, despite the institutional/societal racism he had to overcome.
Because Moss’ story is not only his.
It’s a story that belongs to the entire black community.