In case you have been living under a rock for the past week, a not-so-flattering youtube video recently surfaced of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper. In a drunken tirade, the intoxicated Cooper, who is Caucasian, hurled a racial epithet at an African-American security guard during a Kenny Chesney concert in June. Cooper has since apologized profusely through the media and to his teammates. In addition, he has been fined an un-disclosed amount of money by the Philadelphia Eagles and has agreed to take a leave of absence from the team in order to seek counseling.
While some black teammates like quarterback Michael Vick were quick to accept Cooper’s apology, others such as running back LeSean McCoy were very outspoken with their displeasure. McCoy went as far as to suggest that his friendship with Cooper will no longer exist off the playing field. There is no right and wrong way to feel about Cooper’s disgusting language, and dealing with such a wide range of emotions will make it difficult for an entire team and a league to move forward at the same pace. By using the N-word in a violent and threatening manner, Cooper set off an emotional time-bomb and there is no way to quantify the damage. However, I must commend both Cooper and the Eagles organization as both parties have handled the aftermath as well as humanly possible. The only person who actually “dropped the ball” in this situation was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
For all of his strong stances on player discipline in the past, Commissioner Goodell now seems to be taking lessons from the bumbling commissioner of Major League Baseball in Bud Selig. By not handing down any type of penalty whatsoever, Goodell is sending a message that the use of violent racial slurs is completely acceptable behavior in his league. This head-in-the-sand approach to a very volatile situation is in complete contradiction with what Goodell has built his entire reputation on. It is now easy to conclude that Goodell’s hard-line stance on NFL player conduct has been merely a dog-and-pony show for the entire time that he has been in office. By passing responsibility over to the Eagles organization and allowing Philadelphia to handle this matter internally, Goodell foolishly undermines his own authority as commissioner. Fortunately for Goodell, he was relieved of further embarrassment because the Eagles took it upon themselves as a team to issue a penalty for Cooper and acted much more decisively than the commissioner.
As far as the Eagles are concerned, when Philadelphia levied a fine and a leave of absence as Cooper’s punishment, the team acted with the utmost discretion. The Eagles organization must be commended for resisting intense public pressure to release Cooper from the team. I believe that although Cooper’s offense should not be taken lightly, this incident is not nearly in the same category as the Aaron Hernandez situation in New England and Cooper does not deserve to lose his job. Unlike Hernandez, there is hope for rehabilitation in Cooper’s case and it was admirable to see that Philadelphia recognizes this as well. Riley Cooper also faced the music like a man when offering his apology and seemed genuinely embarrassed and ashamed for his actions. Cooper did not resort to any cowardly deflection tactics, nor did he elect to appeal any type of disciplinary action that was to come his way. Owning up to one’s mistakes always helps in the forgiving process, a concept that too many athletes seem to overlook.
As the Philadelphia Eagles move forward, only time will tell if Cooper is embraced by his teammates once he returns. Whatever the future holds for Cooper and the Eagles, I believe that both player and organization are on the same page and have handled the fallout from this incident in an admirable fashion, which is much more than I can say for Commissioner Roger Goodell.