Stupidity and arrogance should cost Riley Cooper a roster spot with the Philadelphia Eagles and a suspension from the National Football League. He must learn that getting liquored up at a Kenny Chesney concert and using a word that rhymes with trigger in a threat aimed at an African-American security guard at Lincoln Financial Field has its consequences.
Players can say they accept his apology but there is no way they can’t say that his actions on June 8, that were made viral Wednesday, won’t affect his career. At last count, the NFL was 67 percent African-American. There’s no way a marginal fourth-year player such as Cooper will escape wrath of another player. The vicious hits in games and practice are forthcoming.
As for his limited fan base, which had a chance to grow since there was an opportunity for him to become a starter in the wake of Jeremy Maclin’s season-ending knee injury, the chants of “Coop” that used to serenade the Linc will soon be replaced with “Boo.”
When word of the incident reached the Eagles, they went into a defensive mode that was encouraging. Now if they can only find a way of translating that on the field. The team fined Cooper and owner Jeffrey Lurie issued a stern statement that was difficult to ignore.
“We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper’s words,” Lurie said in a statement. “This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident.”
The NFL, whose commissioner Roger Goodell has been under fire for his handling of many crime-related actions by players in recent months, issued a statement on the incident.
“The NFL stands for diversity and inclusion. Comments like this are wrong, offensive and unacceptable.”
But Goodell, who is known for applying swift and stiff punishment, said the league will not punish Cooper because he has already been fined by the Eagles and the collective bargaining agreement does not allow for discipline by both the league and team for the same incident.
“Obviously we stand for diversity and inclusion,” said Goodell. “Comments like that, they are obviously wrong, they are offensive and they are unacceptable. There is no one that feels stronger about that than the NFL, our teams and our players.
“He has accepted responsibility for it. He has spoken to his team. He has been disciplined by the club and will go through some training with the club to understand. I’m glad to see the club stepped up and took a decisive action quickly. That’s the important part of this. We do not penalize at the club level and the league level for the same incident … that’s something we have an agreement in our collective bargaining agreement not to do. So we will not be taking action separately from the club.”
Chesney, an award-winning country music superstar who has recorded 15 albums — 14 of which have gone gold — isn’t pleased that the incident occurred at one of his venues.
“I’m as shocked as anyone to see the video of Riley Cooper that’s started circulating on the internet,” he said. “I don’t believe in discrimination in any form and I think using language like that is not only unacceptable, it is hateful beyond words,”
In a statement, Cooper was contrite.
“I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself,” he said. “I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, to Jeffrey Lurie, to Howie Roseman and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”
Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick, who knows a thing or two about suspensions and fan reaction said in a statement, “Riley is my friend and our relationship has always been about mutual respect. He looked me in the eyes and apologized to me and my teammates. I believe in forgiveness and I believe in him.”
But that feeling isn’t shared by Vick’s brother, Marcus, who tweeted, “Hey I’m putting a bounty on Riley’s head. 1K to the first Free Safety or Strong safety that lights his *** up! Wake him up please…”
Marcus Vick, once a promising player at Virginia Tech, has been known to tweet controversial remarks. Michael Vick quickly defused his younger sibbling’s statement saying, “I don’t agree with what my brother said. Riley is still my teammate and he just stood in front of us and apologized for what he said. Somewhere deep down you’ve got to find some level of respect for that. To people in the outside world who don’t know how we’re dealing with it, they’re going to forge their own opinions, but my brother has to not show a certain level of ignorance himself.”
Racism, sports and Philadelphia have a unique bond. In 1947, Phillies manager Ben Chapman led a verbal assault against Jackie Robinson during a series in Brooklyn that was supposed to intimidate the rookie. Instead, Robinson gained sympathy and respect for maintaing his dignity. It ultimately helped end Chapman’s managerial career.
In 1965, youthful slugger Dick Allen and veteran outfielder Frank Thomas fought prior to a game. Thomas hit Allen with a bat. Not long after that, Thomas was traded to the Houston Astros.
And finally, there’s Charles Barkley. In 1991, Barkley said he’d be suprised if the 76ers became an all-Black team. At the time, Barkley felt that the team wouldn’t cut white backup center Dave Hoppen. “I don’t think [then owner] Harold Katz is racist, but it would surprise me if he had an all-black team, and I’ll stick by that statement,” said Barkley. “It would surprise me if we started the season with an all-black team. He has to think about his ticket buyers. There is a certain minority of people out there who are racist, who don’t want to see an all-black team, who would complain.”
Back in 1995, the Eagles created headlines by hiring Ray Rhodes as head coach. He was the fourth African-American head coach in NFL history behind Fritz Pollard, Art Shell and Dennis Green. Rhodes’ hire was on Lurie’s watch.
The best thing for the Eagles to do is cut ties with Cooper. A team trying to rebound from a 4-12 season under a new head coach, Chip Kelly, doesn’t need this distraction. In a city that is 43 percent African-American, many of whom are passionate about the Eagles, it’s not only the best thing to do - it’s the right thing to do.
Contact staff writer Daryl Bell at (215) 893-5746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.