Ex-Colt Moore's 'real story' grabs students' attention

He's 75 years old, so his gait is understandably slowed. His energy and his message are not. Lenny Moore held the microphone a bit too close to his mouth as he began: "I'm very pleased I've been given the invite to come here. You need to know the real story."

His words are measured, and his cadence slow and rhythmic, each pause hinting that something big might be coming next.


I'm not sure there has ever been a group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders that sat so quietly. You could've told them the Xbox factory closed, that Disney World had permanently chained its gates, that their birthdays had been canceled because of the struggling economy.

They wouldn't have budged. Moore had their attention.


The former Baltimore Colts flanker-running back great was invited to Windsor Mill Middle School to address the students at the school's Black History Month assembly this week. Windsor Mill is three years old, and never before had all 600 students - 95 percent of them black - gathered in the same room.

Moore told them that his father grew up without knowing how to read. That his brothers never thought about college, enlisting in the Army instead. That even though Moore had opportunities, he also had obstacles. His story, he promised, was a history lesson the schoolbooks still don't depict perfectly.

"We used to be Negroes." Moore paused. "Then we became colored." He paused again. "Now we're black."

What does that mean? What does being black mean? The question seemed to be the theme that connected Moore's stories and anecdotes. When he was younger, he told the students, no one taught him what it meant to be an African-American. All of his knowledge of Africa, he said, was gleaned from Tarzan movies. That remark drew giggles from the young audience.

These kids are growing up in a time when the president is black. They see successful African-Americans in all walks of life. Their future is limitless.

For Moore, the football field was one of the few places he ever felt was truly a level playing field.

"There was never anybody ever closer than me and the guys that I played football with on that Baltimore team - on the field," Moore said. "We were just like glue. One for all, all for one."

He paused again, and the students instinctively broke into applause. They didn't see what was coming next. Because we're fresh off the 50th anniversary of "The Greatest Game Ever Played," I did. Moore spared the students most of the details, but the 1950s and '60s were a time when Moore could travel with his teammates but couldn't always eat in the same restaurant, couldn't always stay at the same hotel, couldn't always fraternize with them the same way out of the locker room as he had in it.


It's one of the most troubling parts about Baltimore's history - how such romanticism could be attached to an era and a football team while conveniently overlooking a difficult truth about those teams and that period.

"Once they blew the whistle and the game was over, they went their way, we went our way," Moore told the children. "We split. It was race."

He wanted them to reflect on identity, something a young Moore never spent much time considering. "Who are you? What are you? Where are you? Why are you?" he asked the children.

Afterward, Moore visited with a couple of classes. They asked innocent, curious questions.

Are you in the Madden video game? Did you ever play in the Super Bowl? Did you know John Unitas? Did you ever meet Babe Ruth? Are you rich? ("No," he told them. "N-O. With a capital N and a capital O.")

One of Windsor Mill's teachers is Ollie Matson III. His father is in the Pro Football and College Football halls of fame. He won silver and bronze medals for sprinting at the 1952 Olympics. And, Moore says, he was a great mentor.


"He told me what to expect: 'They're going to call you the big N. You're going to hear it all. So don't get yourself all worked up, because it's going to happen.' "

That's when I really appreciated the difference between him and them, between the Hall of Famer and the students. Moore went through it so these kids don't have to. He never really thought about it at the time - how could he? - but athletes such as Moore and Frank Robinson and Earl Monroe helped Baltimore bridge the racial divide.

Yes, they provided a common interest, a shared meeting point. But they also endured the kind of abuse, discomfort and outright discrimination that hopefully the students at Windsor Mill and every other school will only know from stories.

The America in which they'll grow up is different.

"To do whatever you want to do, to go wherever you want to go, to climb whatever you want to climb, it's there for you folks." Moore paused again.

"It's all there for you."