Day 2 of Rileygate is in the books.
Everything seems to be quiet on the story so we can move on, right? Or not. Lots of different angles to get to here. First up remains the question of whether the Eagles did enough. Should they have cut him? Should they have suspended him?
Suspending him is stupid. That accomplishes nothing.
Cutting him is still a possibility. But not for the reasons many think. You wouldn’t do that to punish Cooper. You would cut him if you felt he was simply going to be too polarizing a presence in the locker room.
I think Riley’s biggest challenge is dealing with his teammates. And that is also his punishment. Think about the times in your life when you’ve screwed up. Think about the look you got from your parents. Their disappointment can be overwhelming. Nothing is worse than being trapped in a veil of shame (well, except the Shame Snuggie).
We cannot accurately say that Riley Cooper is a racist because of the things he said. We can raise the question, though. And that’s what some of his teammates are doing. Look at what LeSean McCoy said.
“I’ve seen the video. I was definitely embarrassed. Coop was one of my good friends on this team, and I just feel like it was a matter of thinking that nobody was watching, and that’s when a person shows who they really are. That’s exactly what took place.”
On Tuesday, Shady and Coop were friends. Now, Shady has to reassess their relationship and has the right to wonder if Cooper is a racist that got caught or an idiot that said something in the heat of the moment.
No suspension is going to have the impact of Cooper looking Shady in the eye on a daily basis.
We also have the question of punishing the crime or dealing with the problem. Suspending Cooper would send a message to the public, but again…it would be pointless. That would simply serve as a convenient public relations move. By keeping Cooper in the locker room and having the players talk about the subject, Cooper is confronted with reality, a very uncomfortable and humiliating reality.
The goal here should not be to punish Cooper so we can feel good. We need to try and learn from the incident. I hope black teammates talk to Cooper about this. He has to learn that you can’t say that kind of stuff, whether on camera or not. Your words have consequences. Cooper wanted that word to hurt the man he was yelling it at, but it also affects others. There are certain words in the English language that are so loaded with meaning and so powerful that you cannot use them without having to deal with the consequences. The N-word is in a league of its own.
Beyond his black teammates, Cooper let down many others. Jeffrey Lurie has to ask the question “Do I want this young man still associated with my football team? If so, how can I explain this to those in the public who would question why I keep him?”
Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly have to decide if keeping Cooper is worth it, in terms of balancing out his talent vs the distraction he will be, both internally and externally.
WRs coach Bob Bicknell has only known Cooper for a few months. Bicknell has to think about things a bit differently. If he says something positive toward Cooper during practice, will that offend any teammates? How do Bicknell and Kelly handle the decision of starting Cooper vs Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn, Jason Avant, Ifeany Momah or Russell Shepard? What if the performance of the players is very similar? They can choose Cooper based on a combination of size/talent/athleticism/experience, but will his black teammates see it that way?
A lot of prominent players have spoken to the media and said they have forgiven Cooper. Some have done this because they know and like Cooper. They are able to separate the incident from the man. Others just want to win. They know Cooper can help the team so they want him to stay and play.
There are some players who are like McCoy. Shady said he’s forgiven Cooper, but also talked about how their relationship has changed. The only reason not to trust Riley Cooper as of Tuesday was due to him dropping some passes. Now, that’s changed significantly. Teammates will be questioning Cooper as a person.
“The coaches are saying we should think team first, but this is just crazy,” the player said. “Was he thinking about the team when he said that?”
“If he’s on the team, he’s on the team,” the player said. “Don’t mean I have to like him.”
Clearly, not everyone is ready to forgive and forget.
I think Cooper and the Eagles have handled this situation about as well as you could. The Eagles were decisive in fining him and then sending him out to meet the press. Public humiliation is part of his punishment. The team could have dragged this out to gauge the waters and get a sense of the public’s reaction. That didn’t happen. They dealt with it right away.
Cooper has met with the media two days in a row. There is no hiding. He didn’t try and use alcohol as an excuse. Whether true or not, he seems genuine with his apologies and comments. Cooper has accepted any and all punishment that has come his way. We don’t know the amount of the fine handed out by the team, but I would think it would be the maximum allowed, which is about $38,000 (for a player who makes $630,000). This isn’t like some megastar getting fined $50K on a $5M salary. Cooper will be affected by his fine. That’s especially true when you take into account that his football future is pretty cloudy right now.
I hope no one tries to make the Eagles out to be insensitive in all of this. The Eagles have been a progressive organization for the entire Lurie era. Has any team had more black starting QBs (Cunningham, Peete, McNabb, Vick)? There was a black coach in Ray Rhodes and black personnel executives (Dick Daniels, Louis Riddick). The coaching staff has been filled with a variety of minority coaches.
The Eagles didn’t ask for this situation, but I think they’ve handled it the right way.
The key now is for Cooper to seek acceptance from his teammates. Only time will tell if this can happen. Cooper will certainly help matters if he plays his butt off. It is easier to forgive someone playing well than someone who is just okay or struggling. Kelly and the coaching staff will closely monitor this situation. If they sense that the issues aren’t going away, then Cooper could end up getting cut. The hope is that the players will put the team first in this situation and Cooper can be kept, but if that just isn’t happening, the team will come first and he’ll be shown the door.
A big part of teammates accepting Cooper will be if they see he is truly bothered by the situation and is genuine in his remorse. Cooper said he couldn’t sleep last night. He did look like a guy going through a crisis today. He does seem to understand he’s dealing with a serious problem. Some players have the wink-wink, nudge-nudge thing going on and you get the feeling they really don’t give a crap. I don’t know what is going through Cooper’s head, but either he’s giving an Oscar-worthy performance or he is genuinely affected by all of this.
My hope is that his teammates forgive Cooper. I want them to come together as a functional football family. Things will never be hunky dory, if they ever were. I’m an outsider so it is easy for me to want this. It will only happen if Cooper says and does the right things and his teammates decide that he’s worth giving a second chance to.
Two months ago he wanted to fight, for some idiotic reason. Now he’s fighting for his football life.