I had already decided not to write about Riley Cooper, the Eagles wideout whose big mouth and beer muscles got him in hot water last week. Cooper, as the entire world knows by now, got hammered at a Kenny Chesney concert in June and got in the face of a Black security guard who had apparently denied him VIP access.
“I will jump that fence and fight every [n-word] here,” spat Cooper, as another concertgoer’s cell phone recorded the action.
Cooper, once outed, was contrite and deeply apologetic, humbly asking forgiveness from his teammates, Eagles fans and Black folk everywhere. The team fined him an undisclosed sum, and excused him from team activities for a few days for counseling — which apparently consisted of him hanging out at his parents’ house in Florida.
I know Riley Cooper. Not really, of course — but over the years, especially during my six years in the military, I met hundreds of guys just like him.
These are white men who, under everyday circumstances, would be considered nice guys. They show no outward animosity toward Blacks or any other ethnic group — indeed, as in the case of the military, they willingly trust their lives to the Black men in their unit and call them brother with genuine affection. They would kill, and they would die, for those particular Blacks without hesitation.
But in the bar on Friday night, once the Jack Daniel’s and Coors kicks in, they start whooping the rebel yell and flinging the n-word around like a Frisbee, ready to fight everyone in sight. The copious consumption of alcohol creates a break, a cognitive disconnect between those no-good n-words they rail against, and those with a similar complexion they consider a trusted brother in arms.
So I decided not to stand in line at the Cooper whipping post, preferring to let the thing play out a bit before getting my licks in. Then came Hugh Douglas.
Over the weekend, while Cooper was presumably getting some anger management counseling along with Mom’s home-made apple pie, former Eagles lineman Hugh Douglas, now an ESPN analyst, was making a similar fool of himself at a National Association of Black Journalists event in Orlando.
Douglas threatened to beat up ESPN colleague Michael Smith on Friday night at the House of Blues when he reportedly tried, and failed, to get on stage with the DJ. Not content with crashing the stage like an idiot, Douglas upbraided Smith, who is also African American, for not helping, calling Smith a “house [n-word]” and an Uncle Tom. While ESPN hasn’t issued a statement on the incident, Douglas also hasn’t been on the air since.
To be fair, I have also known quite a few brothers like Douglas. By the fourth or fifth drink, they’re challenging your racial loyalty, calling out Hanky Heads and Uncle Toms left and right, and throwing the n-word at everyone who doesn’t fit their drunken definition of Blackness.
Having no psychological training, I’m not sure whether this phenomenon, in both Douglas’ and Cooper’s cases, is a result of the alcohol making people say things they normally wouldn’t dream of saying, or whether the alcohol simply brings out the true self. I suspect it’s probably the latter.
Either way, the saga is a clear indication that the battle over the n-word is far from over.
Is it somehow a different word when it’s coming out of the mouth of Riley Cooper or Paula Deen than when it’s coming out of the mouth of Hugh Douglas or Jay Z? In some ways, yes, in many others, no.
There will always be Black people who employ the word frequently, just as there will always be white folks who will point to rap lyrics as a convenient excuse. Racism, in all its ugly forms, is as American as hot dogs and country music, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Just this week the statue of Jackie Robinson in New York’s Coney Island was defaced by vandals who used a felt marker to decorate the sculpture with that ugly word. And witness the most recent defense of the Washington Redskins by fans and the team owner. Native Americans, rightly insulted by the name, have protested and complained for years, only to have those complaints fall on deaf ears in the name of tradition.
I suspect though, that Riley Cooper may get some idea of the folly of his actions earlier than most. Probably right around the time he’s cutting across the middle, right in front of an unforgiving safety.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of The Philadelphia Tribune.