Riley Cooper, a lesson in both prejudice and forgiveness
“I’m going to live with this every day for the rest of my life.”
Earlier this week, Riley Cooper addressed reporters with regret and remorse after returning to the practice field for the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper threatened to “fight every N—– here” when he was reportedly denied entry backstage at a Kenny Chesney concert in June.
Once the video of the incident surfaced, the fourth-year receiver quickly apologized before he was given time off to “seek counseling.”
The Eagles have already lost two players at Cooper’s position to season-ending ACL injuries. The team is about as slim at wide receiver as the chances are anyone learned anything from this ‘episode.’
The NFL locker room – a sacred place
The NFL locker room is a place without boundaries, according to former defensive end and current NFL analyst Akbar Gbajabiamila:
“Nothing is held back; insults of all kinds are thrown around. Lines are crossed and feelings are hurt.”
Football fans understand this to a certain degree, and sports fans in general for that matter. The Cooper rant wasn’t done in the locker room but it’s the locker room that has to most intimately deal with its aftermath.
This isn’t to say Cooper was supposed to go on some national anti-N word campaign around the NFL — but will this season be one where Cooper is able to truly grow and mature and learn from what he did and said?
Former quarterback Kerry Collins reportedly used the N-word while referring to teammate Mushin Muhammad back in pre-YouTube ’97. Collins went on to play 15 more seasons in the NFL, reaching a Super Bowl in 2001 with the New York Giants. He came back “after hitting bottom” as The Big Lead’s Jason Lisk points out.
Can Cooper? Because of his actions, his play this season will be more scrutinized than any player with as thin a resume as his could imagine. Cooper has said all the right things publicly, but Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan wonders if he even went to sensitivity training:
“The obvious joke about a miracle cure for racism were made, but it’s hard to believe Cooper entered any kind of program or training. All the talk about his racial animus, about the role of alcohol and the need for better anger management, was from the outside. Internally, all Cooper had to do was call up and say he was ready to come back.”
A chance for personal growth
So will Cooper be judged by how he performs or whether or not the Eagles fall apart? Several reports suggest the team has moved on, proving forgiveness is more essential to keeping a team together than resentment.
The Eagles first preseason game is Friday against the New England Patriots, a team forced to deal with their own set of off-the-field distractions and injuries.
The use of the N-word among professional athletes on or off the field is nothing new — Terry Foster’s recent piece in the Detroit News examines how two Lions teammates use racial slurs as “friendly banter.” (one white, one black)
Cooper wasn’t fired, cut or suspended — as so often is the case when it comes to public figures who use that type of language. For better or worse, Cooper is still an Eagle — with an opportunity to prove the only lesson that is needed is his own personal transformation.
Follow theGrio.com’s Sports Editor Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj