Changing Times…and Riley Cooper?

Riley Cooper






Early last Friday morning—with another bout of insomnia coinciding with, but not caused by, the celebration of another birthday—I wrote about one aspect of the Riley Cooper saga.  I published it on Bleacher Report.



72 hours later, the situation has changed a little bit. Riley Cooper has taken an excused leave of absence—of unknown duration—from the Philadelphia Eagles. Quarterback Michael Vick has seemed to walk back from (if just a little) his very gracious, supportive comments from a few days before. And, many well-meaning fans and non-fans alike are sick to death of the whole story.


The story does have a lot of dimensions to it, with just some of the following coming easily to mind. In no particular order:

  • How divisive and corrosive is hateful language?
  • Exactly how and why is our country so divided when it comes to issues of race?
  • What serves as reporting and media analysis/commentary today?
  • Are people allowed second chances—especially when their apologies seem to be sincere?
  • Are there acts (including speech) that are too horrible to be forgiven?


Three days ago, before Riley Cooper was given time off for sensitivity training (whatever that constitutes), I was generally optimistic about the situation. I was disturbed by the video, and what appears to be evidence of the fourth-year wide receiver not only behaving like a drunken, angry fool but upping the ante by using the n-word in just about the nastiest, ugliest way possible.


In my piece for Bleacher Report, I wrote:

Cooper, of course, was caught on a cell phone video spewing "I will jump that fence and fight every n—er in here." Firstly, there is no context in which those words can be explained away. These words are deeply offensive to anybody with even a modicum of morality and a sense of history. Used in this fashion, the “N-word” is ugly, divisive and dehumanizing.

Anybody who thinks otherwise would probably have a tough time being reasoned with on any issue.


So, what should have been the punishment?


Three days ago, I thought that the Eagles handled the situation quite well, by making a strong statement about Cooper’s horribly offensive conduct and fining him an undisclosed amount of cash. If they had suspended him or even decided to cut him from the team, I would not have objected strongly, but they decided (perhaps hastily) not to.


My optimism came from the genuine nature of Cooper’s apology (and yes, it was hard to reconcile the video image of the drunken, angry, invective-throwing idiot with the very contrite 25-year-old man who said all the right things afterward.) and how (especially) team leaders Jason Avant and Michael Vick were willing to defuse the situation and lend support to their beleaguered teammate who they knew in a much more positive context over the last three years.


I believe strongly in the power of forgiveness and while Cooper’s rant was inexcusable, it was and is forgivable. Of course, forgiveness should be predicated upon the transgressor’s acknowledging how hurtful his actions were, trying to make amends and giving every indication that he would not repeat the same mistake. No, I don’t believe in “forgive and forget.” Forgiveness is extraordinarily powerful when done in a meaningful way; I see no point in forcing one to forget. Yes, I find that expression idiotic.


With Cooper’s apology (and given the impression that he was apparently somewhat respected among teammates prior to the incident), I felt that things were headed in that direction. Maybe, I’m still a little naïve but I really felt that some good could have come out of this.


Is it too late now? Who knows. 


This is a story that—we being who we are—has been met with some intelligent reflection, but mostly with all kinds of overkill, simplistic analyses and the usual bloviating. Can it be that the video of Cooper acting like a vile, drunken ass only hit our consciousness five days ago?


Still, there are respected voices (yes, black and white, sports fans and non-sports fans alike) who will disagree as to what Cooper’s punishment should have been. That is a healthy debate, but many of us are tired of all of the time spent on things that just are not that important—such as a report on ( a site that is as much TMZ as it is Philly sports) that Cooper knew about the video weeks before it was published on that site. It’s not clear to me whether he did or not (the supposition was based on tweets…that may or may not have been attempts at extortion…from accounts that he probably did not know), but I find this whole angle to the story to be totally insignificant.


Here are my very quick takes on some of the other issues that have come up time and time again in the last five days:


There is a double standard for use of the N-word.

There probably is, and deservedly so, but one has to consider context. This wasn’t a case of Cooper saying (not that I’m a fan of the following usage) something like, “Yo, it’s just me and my niggas chilling at the Chesney concert.”  No, Cooper used the (full) n-word with disdain and anger, and I don’t begrudge anyone, African-American or not, for feeling assaulted and offended.


Now, I understand that there is a difference between the n-word ending in “a” and the one ending in “er” and find all of this to be a little silly and depressing. I get that there are African-American musicians, screenwriters and others who use both forms of the n-word, and many claim that this is a way of owning a very hurtful, painful word. My take is that some really do it in a thoughtful way, while many others do it in a mindless way that just perpetuates exploitation.


Riley Cooper should be celebrated.

Heck no! I think he should be given another chance and I think that he should be defended when the criticism and outrage (which has been false from many people who don’t truly care about how we treat one another) is excessive. But let’s be clear: Cooper is anything but a hero. I will gain some admiration for him if he continues to do and say all the right things and uses his new “platform” to do the good things. I’d like to see him have that chance, and turn this issue into a positive one.


This is a free speech issue

Not even close.


This is just like Paula Deen and Don Imus


No, not really. They all made hateful comments directed in some way at African-Americans, but Deen and Imus are paid as personalities in ways far beyond Cooper. They are, or were, the faces for much bigger brands and advertisers, largely based on their personalities and what they said publically. Also, in Deen’s case (although I didn’t follow it too closely), there were allegations from employees about how she treated them unfairly. And, one more: Deen was not nearly as apologetic as Cooper was.


In the end, the similarities are this. The final decision from Cooper’s employer will be largely a monetary one, and not an ethical one.


Having said all of this, let’s turn the clock back three days for my take on where the Cooper situation stood. Then.


Here is Friday’s column on Bleacher Report.


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