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Joey Moss Made Us All Better

I first met Joey Moss in the summer of 2001 while covering the Edmonton Football Team. It was my first year working in media, and it was Joey’s 16th with the Green and Gold. Training camp was at the Edmonton Garrison, instead of the regular Concordia College, and head coach Don Matthews was fired a few weeks into training camp. It was a great introduction to be prepared for the unexpected.

I’d seen Joey on TV for years, so I knew who he was, but of course, he didn’t know me. My fourth day at camp, I’m standing on the sidelines watching practice and Joey walks by and says good morning without breaking stride. Then he stops, turns around and says, “Looking good,” and proceeds to do his work.

Joey must have said those two words at least 500 times over the next 18 years when I’d see him at practice with the Oilers and Esks.

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Joey said that to many people. He always said hello every time he saw you. Every time. It might be “Hello,” or “Looking good” or “How you doing?” but Joey’s presence always made you smile and feel special.

He was a character. He loved hanging with the guys. And the players adored him. You could tell their relationships were genuine.

“They introduced Joey to me, when I was a rookie and he sang La Bamba to the dressing room,” said Georges Laraque. “He brought life and energy to the dressing room. It was amazing. He made us laugh and smile all the time. My role was pretty stressful, but having him around with his energy and the way he made me laugh all the time he made my job easier. He took a lot of the stress out of my job. I think he did that for lots of guys.”

Laraque spoke with me for over 20 minutes. His reverence of Joey was obvious.

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Joey was introduced to the sporting world through the Oilers, via Wayne Gretzky in 1985, and then he joined the Edmonton Football team in 1986. He was very meticulous about his job as a locker room attendant. But Joey became much more than that.

He impacted millions of people, many he had never met, because he changed how we saw people with developmental disabilities.

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In the mid 80s, into the 1990s and even in the 2000s some people still used the R word when describing people with Down syndrome. I remember being in a group of people when someone uttered that word while discussing Joey and two people spoke up and said don’t use that word. They’d never met Joey, but sports fans, and people in the community, connected with Joey. He impacted many without ever meeting them.

He shared their passion for sports. He was a diehard fan. When the teams won you saw how happy he was, and when they lost an important game you saw his pain. He was real. Fans connected with him and he was viewed as a person, not someone with a developmental disability.

And he became an inspiration for many young kids and adults like him.

“Joey was a role model for many kids with Down syndrome,” said Laraque. “And he showed them if they had dreams to do something they could achieve it. What I remember most was when kids with Down syndrome came in the room. They wanted to meet him more than anyone. He was a symbol of hope for them. He was beloved by everyone.”

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There are very few people who are able to have a positive impact on people the way Joey did. And he didn’t even know it. That’s just who he was.

He loved wrestling. I mean he loved it. One day at practice I asked him about an upcoming Wrestlemania and he lit up talking about it. Players from both teams would have wrestling matches with him in their respective dressing rooms. The Oilers would make a big deal out of it. They’d turn the lights off in the room, and then introduce Joey, often as the heel. He loved playing the heel role. And the players made it a big deal. The odd time Joey lost a match, or worse yet, the belt, he’d be devastated. But he always regained the title and every time he won it was like the first time. His joyful exuberance was infectious.

The Esks did the same. Strong middle linebackers like JC Sherritt and AJ Gass were regular opponents.

IN THE COMMUNITY…

Joey’s connection to Edmonton and surrounding area strengthened because he did many charitable events. I was lucky enough to be part of the Edmonton Down Syndrome’s Uniquely Me annual fundraiser.

He was so comfortable on stage and he made everyone smile. He also left a legacy with the Winnifred Stewart Association. They offer “community and facility-based programs which assist individuals with disabilities to lead fulfilling lives and become integral members of their communities.” He helped start the Empties to Winn program, where they come to your house and pick up your bottles. They’ve raised millions of dollars and will continue to do so for many years. What a wonderful legacy.

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Former Oilers Craig Muni posted this video four years ago. Joey was 53 years young. He loved dancing and he never passed up an opportunity to show off his moves. He lived the motto “Dance like no one is watching.”

Joey taught me a lot. He was always smiling. He was always kind, and he was never afraid to show his emotions. And he took his job seriously. He liked routine and he was told to start vacuuming the room 30 minutes after practice. I remember a few times being in the dressing room after practice when Joey would fire up the vacuum while some media members were still conducting interviews. He wasn’t rude. But it was his time to work. I don’t recall seeing anyone complain. Sometimes he would start the vacuum just to clear the room. He was smart.

And he was incredibly proud to be Canadian. He sang the anthem with such vigour and enthusiasm.

Joey Moss passed away peacefully yesterday. He was 57 years old. My deepest condolences to the Moss family, his close friends and to all he touched.

He made us all better.

Rest in peace Joey.